The buzzword that’s here to stay?


The wine fair wouldn’t be the wine fair without a buzzword weaving its way through Olympia’s
ruby-carpeted corridors. Last year, it very quickly transpired that ‘regenerative’ was the chosen
one, firmly blowing 2022’s ‘sustainability’ out of the buzzword water, and rightly so. ‘Sustainability’
had more than run its course, just as ‘organic’ had done back in the day - but not that long ago -
when regenerative wasn’t even a speck on the wine-vocabulary horizon.

Today then, here we are, knee-deep in discussions about ‘regen’ (agriculture) and the best way to
protect our planet from further damage, all the while merrily continuing our daily business of
growing grapes, making wine and selling wine. As a fundamental component of a circular
economy, is going regenerative the most compelling, economically viable, impactful approach the
wine industry has found to date, thereby making it the buzzword that’s here to stay?

To help us decide, let’s consider a few fundamentals, after all, ‘regenerative’ just like natural wine,
has no fixed definition. So how can we best explain regenerative agriculture (RA) and how is it
different - is it even different - from sustainability? Tobias Webb, founder of Sustainable Wine
explains how to separate them. “Sustainability is a broad term, based on the Bruntland
Commission definition, while regenerative is much more focussed. The approach of using nature
and science together effectively, combines the best of both worlds. It’s very different from
sustainability, which we might look upon as a strategy, whilst regenerative agriculture is a tactic to
help deliver part of sustainability, long term.”

For all the buzzword’s prevalence at last year’s fair, one common misconception about RA - that it
is purely a physical manifestation - prevails, when in fact, being regenerative is about far more
than having awesome soil that captures as much carbon as possible. It also requires “a shift in
mindset,” says Stephen Cronk, founder of both Maison Mirabeau in Provence and the
Regenerative Viticulture Foundation (RVF), adding, “people are increasingly aware of individual
aspects of RA, but you really need to consider the entire vineyard as one ecosystem, because
everything is interconnected and we need to think about the whole system to make it more
resilient, rather than trying to fix issues as they arise.” Unsurprisingly, this view is reinforced by
Marta Mendonça and Cristina Crava of The Porto Protocol, “regenerative agriculture represents a
shift in thinking,” they say, “it is a crucial movement, promising a renewed approach to
winemaking that prioritises biodiversity, starting where life begins, underground.”

Then of course, there’s the money. Sceptics may argue it isn’t economically viable to practice
regeneratively, but an increasing number of studies are proving that it is. “Ascertaining the
commercial viability of different sizes of vineyards in different regions is one of the roles of RVF,”
heralds Cronk. Put crudely, it’s a matter of input and output. Webb elaborates, “if you can improve
outcomes and outputs with lower input costs, that drives economic efficiency. This can take time,
particularly in a monoculture crop, where converting surrounding land use to smarter approaches,
done right, offer the best chance of improved land use and better financials.” Moreover, it allows
for flexibility, meaning different sized producers bring their own talents to the regenerative table.
While smaller producers have the ability to operate a closed farm system for example, larger
producers can incorporate technological advances into their work.

As a term that continues to gather momentum through the wine community’s conversations, is RA
truly the best possible approach for our planet that the wine industry has found to date? Rather
than declaring it to be the best approach, Webb prefers to call it, “the least worst, because it feels
more immediately understandable than sustainability, [it] feels forward and progressive, about
doing more right stuff”. While the Sustainable Wine Roundtable continues to develop its position
paper that will ultimately lead to regenerative viticulture protocol, there’s already a danger of
‘regenerative’ being just as overused as ‘sustainability’ warn Mendonça and Crava, admitting that
The Porto Protocol has “a soft spot for the term ‘agroecology’, which, they add, “embodies a
robust, multidisciplinary approach that encompasses holistic principles and an ecosystem
perspective, making it less susceptible to superficial greenwashing tactics.”

While it’s unlikely ‘agroecology’ will be 2024’s buzzword, it certainly sounds like one to listen out
for in the future. Until then, ‘regen’ seems to be where it’s at.

Join the sessions on:

Centre Stage on Wednesday 22nd May at 2pm - Viticulture for future generations - understanding the benefits of regenerative practices

The Education Zone on Tuesday 21st May at 12pm - Climate tech: the potential of the circular economy 

Don't miss out