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September 29, 2021

Going Green in Terra Alta

Is there anything new happening at Herencia Altes?

Rafa: There’s something hot off the press, that’s not allowed to be released until the 29th of September. We are finalizing our application for an organization called International Wineries for Climate Action (IWCA), which is spearheaded by Torres and Jackson Family Wines. We’re going to be the fourth Spanish winery to join. This association is all about delivering on commitments when it comes to greenhouse emissions. So earlier this year, we conducted an audit of our CO2 emissions, to be published, and that report came back indicating that we are below the sector average. Per bottle, we emit 1.4 kilos of CO2 emissions compared to 1.7, which is the industry standard. The new association we’re joining is committed to getting to zero. Zero accommodates a degree of carbon offsetting. But the emphasis is always on reducing emissions.

Rafa: So, what we’ve been doing? When we built the winery, we decided that we wanted to invest in renewable energy. Eighty percent of our usage comes from solar panels. The minimum requirement for this association is just 20%. So, we’re well in line with that. Then with other practices, reducing bottle weights, consolidating full truckloads to reduce the amount of fuel used to bring bottles to and from the winery. There are sacrifices you have to make, and everyone likes big heavy bottles but glass is the biggest polluter in the wine industry. So, we all must start rethinking our relationship with glass and start using lighter bottles. And supporting local glass manufacturers who are recycling more of their glass.

Nuria: Because in our carbon calculation, 80% of the percentage of our CO2 footprint comes from the suppliers we use and 20% depends on us. So, from this 80%, a huge percentage comes from glass bottles.

Rafa: Recently, we were presented with a new bottle from 100% recycled glass, an industry first, as far as I’m aware. It’s now being upscaled to a more industrial level, because it’s still rather boutique at the moment and the cost now is prohibitive. But as that upscales and the cost comes down, we will certainly be looking at that product or similar products from more local suppliers. We’ve also been looking at cans as well. Not for Herència Altés but for other brands we make. I think that’s an interesting packaging solution for the future and for everyday drinking wines for a new generation of consumers. Aluminum is 100% recyclable, and infinitely recyclable and weighs a lot less. Then other changes within our winery itself, things like recycling the CO2 that’s generated from fermentation is something that we’re going to be looking at and learning about through the association we’re joining and other small steps, protocols, and practices that we can make to improve our operations.

Nuria: And then you have compensations, you also can compensate for CO2 by planting trees…

Restoring the habitat surrounding the vineyards

Rafa: … which we had already done when we started at Herència Altés. We planted around 14,000 trees, shrubs, and bushes. It wasn’t specifically to reduce CO2 emissions or to compensate for them. But we’ve inadvertently already been compensating quite a lot.

Nuria: Also, this year we joined the Catalan Butterfly Monitoring Scheme to count butterflies every month which we pass along to this association to see what’s happening with these important pollinizers for our vineyards.

Rafa: So, there is the IWCA which is focused on CO2 emissions, probably the biggest issue around climate change at the moment. But beyond that, there are other equally important issues such as deforestation and the use of pesticides and herbicides, which is reducing biodiversity in general, so we’re trying to combat that as much as possible. We already recycle rainwater, but now we are looking into developing a series of different tanks and reservoirs that allow us to recycle as much wastewater as possible. We’re also developing a compost site for organic waste. So, on a small scale everything that we can do, we’re trying to implement with the resources available. 

How much of your land is devoted to habitat restoration?

Rafa: Within our main farm of Lo Grau there are five hectares out of 21 hectares, which have been assigned to rewilding – where we’re giving nature a bit of a helping hand by planting bushes and trees to reforest those areas. We are also building some other features like watering sites so animals can return because in an average year, it’s a pretty dry region. If you want to repopulate some species, then we must give a little bit of a helping hand creating habitats for birds, bats, insects… just helping bring back as much diversity as possible.

How has your organic philosophy impacted viticulture?

Nuria: Naturally, when you become organic, it benefits your soils. So, we keep a cover of grass between our vines but carefully because we are in a very dry climate. So not all the time but one year on and another year not. And all this practice helps us to create biodiversity in our vineyards and outside.

How do you feel about organic certification?

Rafa: I think now the debate has moved on from 20 years ago when you had more altruistic visionaries who felt like they needed to support the local environment. They didn’t need to brag about it to sell their wines. But now we’re in an age of greenwashing. So, we have to be very strict and careful about what we say and what we do. It must be properly measured and properly audited. It doesn’t have to be an economic sacrifice and I believe it can be an economic advantage if you do it right.

Your farming is currently certified organic by CCPAE, why then are you joining the IWCA?

Rafa: We would like to become a model for small-scale producers with limited resources that hopefully can change their practices in alignment with sustainable values and not suffer economically but conversely, actually benefit from it in terms of their market profile. That’s a real kind of a win-win for everyone, I think.

Was it difficult to convince your growers to convert to organic farming?

Nuria: I think at the beginning yes. They were a bit suspicious and not very sure about it. But when one neighbor did it, and it worked, it changed their minds.

Rafa: I think there are two types of growers, one who believes in organic viticulture, philosophically, and the other who believes in it because it pays more per kilo of grapes. So, I think there are those two branches. The first one will always be a natural supplier for us. The other one we have to develop through incentives.

Nuria: And the one that changes because of the incentives, when they see it is not difficult, and it works, then, it’s easy.