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Bodegas Torres: Green sky thinking

Nowadays it’s not uncommon for wine companies to proclaim their green credentials, as the urgency of climate change and awareness of its impact on the environment, and wine industry, deepens. However some companies are far more ambitious in their uptake of green initiatives than others, and for the better.

Miguel A. Torres

Spanish wine producer Bodegas Torres, one of the oldest and biggest in the country, is one such company. Led by Miguel A. Torres, who was galvanised into action after watching Al Gore’s 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth, which highlighted the impending threat of climate change and rising global temperatures, the company has so far invested €12 million in green initiatives since 2008.

“I spoke to my wife and said we have to do something, because we live from the earth and the vines are so sensitive to heat,” he said, speaking to the drinks business on a visit to Torres earlier this month. “We have to adapt our vines and help mitigate this change,” adding: “The wine sector has in its own hands the capacity to lead the adoption of CO2 capture and reuse technologies to considerably reduce emissions. This certainly involves a change of paradigm and is a long, necessary and viable road towards achieving a zero-emissions winery within 10 to 15 years.”

An average temperature increase of more than 2ºC could have catastrophic consequences on the wine industry, believes Torres, which is in agreement with experts that the only way to prevent this is to limit the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere by reducing carbon emissions.

“The biggest challenge currently facing the wine industry, and wine-growing in particular, is climate change,” says Torres. “Increasing temperatures mean the gape harvest is earlier every year, which could come to affect the quality of wines and even alter the vine-growing map.”


Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth was what first spurred Torres into action in 2008

In 2008, Torres launched its Torres & Earth project with the aim of reducing its carbon emissions per bottle by 30% by 2020, with the ultimate aim of becoming carbon neutral. So far it has achieved a 15.6% decrease per bottle, and has invested around €12million in renewable energy and green initiatives, with Miguel Torres allocating 11% of its profits each year to the development of the programme to ensure its continuation. 

This has included the expansion of its photovoltaic panels at its Pacs del Penedès winery in Catalonia in 2016 to a total of 18.000 m2, which powers charging stations for electric and hybrid vehicles at its main office, and the reforestation of 30 hectares of nearby woodland. Plans for 2017 include the installation of solar panels at its wineries in Ribera del Duero and Rueda.

However Miguel admits he is still not happy with what the company has achieved, with plans to go further. This year, the company added a number of experimental projects, in partnership with several universities and energy companies including Rovira i Virgili University of Tarragona, the Institute of Chemical Research of Catalonia, the UB and UAB universities of Barcelona and the Korean company Miwon, to its programme, supporting the developing of CCR (Carbon Capture and Reuse) technologies.

Its purpose is to investigate not only ways of reducing its use of CO2, but of capturing the gas during the fermentation process and reuse it, turning it into fuel, using it to create new products, or storing it as a carbonate.

This is in addition to its high altitude (1,000m) 100 hectare experimental vineyard in Catalonia, where Torres is working with a number of ancestral grape varieties to find those that are not only oenologically interesting, but inherently resistant to drought and heat in order to future proof its business in the face of climate change.

Its research is impressive, potentially groundbreaking, and could have a widespread impact on not only the wine industry, but wider industries and the environment, if it can be applied on a larger scale.

“They keep saying that we have to see the data but we know the science – that more CO2 in the atmosphere will make temperatures rise,” said Miquel Rosell-Fieschi, an oceanographer and a member of Bodega Torres’ climate change, when asked what he would say to doubters of climate change. “It’s not like we don’t know the outcome. We know the impact of greenhouse gases. You can deny the effects of climate change, that it won’t be as bad as we say, but you can deny climate change. It’s like denying gravity.”

Earlier this month the drinks business visited Torres to unpick the science behind the headlines.

Power to Gas 

Miquel Rosell-Fieschi, an oceanographer and member of Torres’ climate change team

Every year Torres expels around 2,500 tons of CO2 through winemaking activities alone, making a winery the perfect testing ground for studying and developing CCR technologies.

So far, Bodegas Torres environmental team has carried out tests with eight different technologies offering alternative uses of the CO2 produced during fermentation.

One of the most promising its its Power to Gas initiative, which sees energy generated from solar panels used to produce Hydrogen, which can then be transformed into methane gas by combining it with C02, using methanogenic microorganisms called Archaea as catalysers. This Methane gas can then be used to power tractors as a substitute of fossil fuel.

Should it be successful, not only could a winery capture and reuse its CO2 for as fuel, saving it money, as well as minimising its impact on the environment, but it could also provide a winery with a secondary revenue stream, selling back unused renewable energy to the wider grid.

Another experiment uses organic compounds to capture CO2 to create a product that can be used in the paint industry, while a third experiment has seen Torres explore the use of seawater electrolysis to generate a low-carbon-footprint-basic-solution that can be later used to capture C02 in the form of inorganic carbonate, which rather than escaping into the atmosphere can be stored safely on earth as a sold carbonate.

Bio char is another application that could support the capture of CO2. Biochar is a charcoal produced through pyrolysis (combustion in the absence of oxygen) that can be added to soils and has the ability to trap CO2 in soils for longer than normal, while also improving the quality of the soil. In this sense, planting vineyards is a way of keeping C02 in the ground.

“Accumulation in the soil, it’s withdrawing CO2 in the atmosphere, but it’s also improving the soil,” said Miquel Rosell-Fieschi, an oceanographer and part of Bodega Torres’ climate change team. “Increasing its moisture retention and giving properties to the soil thats advantageous to certain crops,” adding: “We think we have to keep testing that and investigating, because our results are not conclusive but there are promising outcomes.”

Torres winemaker Montse Catasus Asenjo with the winery’s range of ancestral varieties

Vineyard visionaries

Outside of the lab Torres is also working in the vineyard to mitigate the future impact of climate change. Since the 1980s, its programme to recover Catalonia’s ancestral grapes has led to the reintroduction of 50 varieties.

After locating an unknown variety, it is identified with the help of an ampelographer, who studies its leaves and shoots, and through DNA analysis. Then it is categorized, given a health check-up, propagated in vitro and planted in various experimental vineyards to study and evaluate its organoleptic qualities.

“We then select the varieties that are most interesting from an enological standpoint. If they’re unknown, we give them a name, which usually makes some kind of reference to the place where it was found. Finally, we register the variety with the Ministry of Agriculture’s official grape varieties register,” Torres explains.

Of those varieties that have been re-discovered, Torres has identified six that it believes have the greatest potential in the future, and which are also more resistant to drought and heat, tying into its fight to mitigate the impact of climate change in the future.

They include the white variety Forcada, and the red grapes Pirene, Gonfaus, Moneu and Querol. None are currently in commercial production as a single varietal, however Querol is used as part of a blend in Torres’ Grans Muralles.

This project is in addition to its climate change vineyard at its Pacs del Penedès winery Catalonia, where it has been tracking the impact of its management over the past five years in order to determine the impact on its maturation. This the effect of different training systems, cover cropping, canopy management, rootstocks, planting density and shade nets with the intention of learning how best to delay maturation as temperatures rise, to ensure that phenolic and physiological ripening remain in sync in the future.

Green sky thinking

Miguel A. Torres presenting the winery’s various experimental CO2 capture technologies

Crucially, Torres’ experimental projects in the lab with regard to the capture of CO2 show the range of possibilities offered by these technologies as a future solution for fighting climate change, particularly when combined with renewable energy sources, and the need to support the development of these technologies to accelerate “large-scale implementation”. They are not currently in use in a meaningful way.

“The fact is that none of these technologies alone is enough,” adds Rosell-Fieschi. “So it’s important to find synergies and implement them in real life. We are studying the possibilities and capturing small amounts of CO2 to understand which methods are best to implement them in real production.

“We need to let the world know that this technology is ready, it’s starting and it needs friends and protectors and people that believe in this technology to bring it forward and we would like to let people know that it’s important, it’s necessary and it’s readily available.”

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