If you aren’t drinking wine from Chile, you are missing out on some of the most exciting, dynamic wines in the world. Chile’s wine industry has exploded over the past 30 years. It’s on the cutting edge of several global trends, including sustainability.
Many trends are driven by climate change. But innovative winemakers and growers are driving the industry forward.
Though it seems a young wine region, the Spanish made wine in Chile as early as the 16th century. Among the world’s wine-producing countries, Chile ranks 6th, producing about 4%, most of it exported. The country boasts over 340 wineries spread from the far north to the deep south.
Chile’s diverse soils and favorable climate support a growing business. But this growth is causing environmental issues. So, the industry decided to increase its sustainability efforts.
Major Areas of Concern
Climate change is hammering the country. Mega-droughts often occur and are critical in close to 40% of the country. Precious rain is rare in many places. People and businesses struggle with limited resources.
The northern valleys and the important Maule Valley in the south-central region are reeling from water stress. Critical water shortages are leading to much-needed innovation in irrigation systems. The goal is to reduce water usage by up to 30%.
Soil Farming Practices
Chile experienced many years of damaging farming practices. The use of chemicals and tractors contributed to vineyard erosion. About a fifth of the country, including the south-central region, is affected.
To improve vineyard health, the industry encourages sustainable farming practices.
Transportation and Packaging
Air pollution and greenhouse gasses create severe environmental damage. A wine bottle creates 1.5kg of CO2, so Chile’s wine exports of 1.2 billion bottles generate about 1800 tons of CO2. Air transportation causes much of the CO2 generated by wine.
Using a lighter-weight bottle would cut CO2 in half. Shipping the wine in bulk and bottling it at the point of delivery would cut the CO2 by 70%.
There are no global standards for sustainability, but the goals in Chile include:
- Improve biodiversity
- Streamline the supply chain
- Create standard processes
- Develop technology in quality and distribution
- Analyze and track pesticide use
- Identify soil and subsoil chemistry
- Define specific geological areas and appropriate grape varieties
- Evaluate climate change using the VITISGEOCLIMA platform
- Ensure product and human health and safety
Chile’s partnership with Amfori reveals its deep commitment to sustainability. As a leading global trade body, Amfori partners with companies to develop audit skills to evaluate environmental and social activities. In Chile, it works with 145 vineyards and wineries.
Amfori promotes global trade and responsible care for natural resources and human beings. Results include more efficient supply chains, better financial results, and improved social welfare. Ethics and transparency underlie the program in line with UN Sustainable Development Goals.
With over 80 members, the local trade body, Wines of Chile, recently launched a new initiative. The Sustainability 365 program promotes a holistic approach throughout the year. It covers grape growing, making and distributing wine, human resources, and tourism. A robust R&D program is also part of the effort.
Wines of Chile was created to influence the government’s activities on behalf of members. The members represent over 80% of the country’s wine exports. Its goal is to elevate Chile globally as a top producer of premium quality sustainable wine by 2025.
The group created a formal code to ensure long-term success.
Released in January 2011, the Sustainability Code combines social, environmental, and quality standards into wine production.
Wineries and growers of any size volunteer to earn certifications in four areas:
- tourism (new)
Aspects of the program include standards, community interactions, outreach, training, and ethics.
Wines of Chile administers the Code and certifications. Three committees manage the transparent and independent process:
- Superior Code Committee manages the transparency and consistency of the system.
- Norms Committee proposes changes to the Code.
- Technical Unit works with the vineyards and other organizations.
Participants are certified by authorized companies. After certification, they can use the “Certified Sustainable Wine of Chile” seal.
The committees conduct research, develop decision-making tools, and provide education and training. Objectives include:
- promote efficient and sustainable water and energy use
- reduce greenhouse gases and other emissions
- introduce new technologies
- educate and integrate socially responsible business practices
The four certifications cover:
Vineyard - biodiversity, soil management, disease/pesticide management, water protection, and more. It also addresses varietal identity and traceability.
Production - waste and emissions reduction, water and transportation management, and energy savings.
Social - ethics, work life, community, marketing, and consumers. It’s research-based and education-focused.
The Tourism certification is new. It will include reviewing onsite facilities and services to improve wine tourism in the country.
The Chilean wine industry is leading the wine world in sustainability for vine growing and wine production. Buyers can be assured the wines carrying the “Certified Sustainable Wine of Chile” seal are the real deal.
The experts at Big Hammer Wines taste thousands of wines each year, searching for quality and value you can depend on. See our latest partnership with Viña Tabali, a member of Wines of Chile, whose winemaker is a two time Best Winemaker.