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Sustainable Wine Tourism – What is it? How can we achieve it?

Caro Feely is the co-founder of our member Chateau Feely, an organic biodynamic estate in Saussignac, South West France. Chateau Feely won the Gold Trophy for the category education and valorisation of the environment in the national wine tourism awards in 2019 and a Best of Wine Tourism Gold trophy in 2017 and 2013. They have been certified organic and biodynamic for more than a decade.

The ultimate sustainable wine tourism is wine tourism that leaves no trace of pollution whether from greenhouse gasses (GHG) like CO2, pesticides, or plastic; that educates and uplifts, that brings mindfulness, and wellness. That’s the dream. What’s the reality? In this article I try to define sustainable wine tourism from an individual estate’s point of view, offer ideas and categories to help think about sustainable wine tourism, and cover some of the initiatives at Chateau Feely.What does Sustainable Wine Tourism mean?

Sustainability is a complex word; a word has been grossly misused. But what is it and how can we, as winegrowers, offering wine tourism, embrace it?

In the book ‘The Good Ancestor’, Roman Krznaric explains a Great Law of the Iroquois in North America which says the decider must think seven generations ahead (about 140 years into the future) to decide whether decisions today. They must consider whether the decision will benefit their children seven generations into the future. That is a big ask in a world driven by quarterly targets and short termism, but it is a good ideal to keep in mind for thinking sustainably.

IPCC projections to 2100 (80 rather than 140 years out) predict that with business-as-usual, average CO2 concentration will be over 1000 parts per million of CO2 equivalent (we’re at around 414 ppm now, at the time of COP26). That projection that will put the average temperature increase at 4 to 5 degrees Celsius with the associated increase in climate catastrophes like heatwaves, floods, hurricanes creating an existential threat to humanity. It’s clear that to be sustainable we must reduce CO2 emissions.

Before lockdown Bergerac Wine Route members met to brainstorm Sustainable Wine Tourism. We outlined three main areas for sustainable thinking – environment, social and economic.

Sometimes categories can appear to be in conflict, for example, environment in conflict with economics. But that is seldom the full picture. For an example, initiatives for the environment can cost more in the short term but are worth it in the long term and for wider society. See my thoughts on externalised costs in wine production here https://chateaufeely.com/is-organic-more-expensive-than-chemically-farmed-wine-externalised-costs-and-more/. At the Wine Route debate some winegrowers felt a little threatened by the discussion, but most people were very engaged. We learned and challenged each other. Exchange is vital.

Sustainable wine tourism is about decreasing CO2 emissions, encouraging ‘slow’ tourism, communication, and education on environment, and working with local partners and community.

Decreasing CO2 emissions across all activities

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the climate crisis but every change we make, no matter how small, is important. As tourism actors we have a large role to play in our direct emissions and in education.

We can assess unnecessary CO2 emissions and seek to remove them. For example, luxury wine tourism cannot offer helicopter rides in good faith even with carbon offsets. Instead of a helicopter we could add a touch of the sky, perhaps fly a camera drone, and project the real time views maybe even with a virtual reality headset although I am personally more for activities with less technology and more direct nature.

We can change our perspective and share that in our communications. True luxury is a quiet vineyard packed with biodiversity.

For tours in fossil fuel vehicles whether 4*4s, quads or other, we can consider changing to alternatives like walking, cycling or low consumption electric vehicles charged on 100% renewable electric sources. Carbon offsets cannot make up for unnecessary burning of fossil fuel – the fossil fuel should be left in the ground.

For ideas on books to read and categories for assessing individual actions see  https://chateaufeely.com/7-tips-for-eco-resolutions-in-2020/. They can also be useful for thinking about a business.

Slow Wine Tourism

Slow wine tourism is taking time to appreciate a deep visit at one estate, rather than rushing through a short visit at five estates across a region. For those wanting to experience multiple estates fast a visit to a local Maison des Vins (most are in towns or cities accessible by train) can offer a solution.

Cycling or walking instead of driving is slow travel. Slow is also about being mindful of what we experience, of looking deeply into the seemingly small things, to see the magic, rather than racing through looking out of a car window. We experience so much more across all our senses outside on foot or on a bike than in a car. Slow tourism is taking the time to enjoy wines and ‘slow food’ that has been prepared from local ingredients, ideally grown at the estate.

Slow tourism includes working with other players in the local area. Staying home or staying closer to home and doing things available at local estates rather than going national or even international. In Bergerac appellation a cycling wine route is in discussion.

Activism for infrastructure that supports sustainable choices eg public transport /green routes for bicycles

Being a sustainable business is also making our voices heard on infrastructure locally, nationally, and internationally. For example, supporting proposals to create great high-speed train networks or better local train options to encourage visitors to travel by train instead of flying, requesting the creation of spokes and connectors from mainline green cycle routes to smaller places.

For example, a green route cycle path is planned to reach a town that is 5 kms from Saussignac village where our farm is located. We asked our village Mayor to create a spoke to connect to it, so it is safe for people to cycle to connect to the cycle route. This could start as a simple right of way on farm tracks that are already there rather than a hardcore route. Unfortunately, a major part of the green route is now on indefinite hold due to the cost of creating a bike passage across a train track it needs to cross. The more cyclists there are, and the more voices there are supporting a bicycle infrastructure, the easier it will be to get things like this over the line.

Some Initiatives at Chateau Feely

We have made some progress at Chateau Feely, but we have so much more to do. Here are some of the places we have made progress and where I see room for improvement.

Serving Food that matches a sustainability ethos

We buy non-perishable products (eg tea, coffee) in bulk rather than individual tea bags or coffee pods. We use reusable washable metal tea-balls. The best is to use homegrown whole leaves that don’t even need a tea-ball. We propose mint tea or thyme picked fresh from the garden. Many people go for this garden option, and as I write this, I realise that if we explained its environmental virtue perhaps even more people would choose it, another education opportunity we could include in our visits.

We use local products and explain the provenance. For example, the organic bread is from a local organic farmer that grows the heritage wheat, mills it in a stone mill on the farm and makes the bread in a wood fired oven. We collect our bread order from them on their stand at the Saturday Bergerac market making it part of a larger shopping trip and avoiding unnecessary delivery related CO2 emissions, then freeze it in a chest freezer located in a cool cellar and defrost as needed.

We use only organic products for our hospitality. We have been a certified organic farm since 2008. Seeking organic only and ideally local products means getting to know the producers and changing what we offer due to seasonality and availability.

At Relae in Copenhagen, the first Michelin starred restaurant to be certified organic (now closed due to Covid), the chef found that becoming certified organic meant they asked deeper questions of their suppliers, questions that made them realise why some of these suppliers were not organic and therefore not the suppliers they wanted (see my full article at https://chateaufeely.com/christian-puglisi-creator-of-the-only-certified-organic-michelin-star-restaurant/ ). We offer vegan and vegetarian options. The salads, herbs, and fruit we serve are often direct from our organic vegetable garden.

Offering transport options and information

We provide information on means of transport available around our location on our website and by email. We have a selection of simple bicycles available for resident guests and can recommend places to rent e-bikes / specialised bikes if required. We offer a pickup service at the local station (4.5km away) for resident guests and for full day tours.

Guests with electric vehicles can plug into our 100% renewable electricity on site. Until this year people requested to plug in and offered to pay for their use. This year we noticed guests plugging into their accommodation’s standard plug without asking if they could charge their vehicle. From next year we will make smart plugs available that track this power use so they can pay for what they use. The percentage of clients driving electric vehicles is growing.

Building materials used on the estate for the winery, tasting room, guest facilities and accommodation.

When we renovated the property, we used eco-building elements. Organic natural paint, natural insulation, an ecological plaster board called fermacell and low power heating solutions (heat pump for water and for underfloor heating). Rainwater is captured from our rooftops to use on the gardens and the farm. All toilets are equipped with dual flush water saving systems. We also have a composting toilet as a backup facility and that offers an opportunity to educate people on environment. We used eco-design in the Wine Lodge and tasting room with overhangs for a natural temperature management and skylights in the hallways to avoid lights during the day. We use and provide ecological cleaning products. We dry our laundry in the sun and rarely use a dryer.

Energy management

We use a green energy supplier so 100% of the electricity used on the property comes from renewable energy sources. Our space heating and hot water systems use heat pumps. We use solar outdoor lighting. We monitor our energy consumption regularly and think about ways to improve.

Waste management

We limit individual packaging in favour of refillable, biodegradable, or compostable packaging for cleaning products, soaps and food purchased. We use sorting bins and make sorting containers and compost containers available to resident guests.

The ideal is to have nothing to recycle, to use, for example, re-usable containers and to offer products that we grow here rather than buy. We offer locally made solid soap instead of liquid soap to our resident guests. In the shared facilities in the tasting room, we use rechargeable liquid soap. We have moved to powder laundry soap instead of liquid that is packaged in plastic. We show guests our compost heaps as part of our wine tours.

The old 3 R’s for waste of reduce, reuse, recyle; has been expanded to 7 R’s – rethink, refuse, reduce, repurpose, reuse, rot, recycle. I find this a good way to think about waste management.

Communication

Friends Francine and Clément Klur of Vignoble Klur in Alsace were a catalyst for our notes on eco living in the accommodation files. When we stayed in their holiday apartments in 2009, I noticed their notes in their guest folder and eco living books available in the shared lounge area. When I got home, I did the same. I set up information about things like saving water, electricity, composting, sorting waste, as part of our visitor notes. We were doing it ourselves and had sorting bins available for guests, but we had not made that kind of information explicit before. It was a simple but useful opportunity to share information with guests in a friendly and accessible manner. As a friend said at a recent environment event, people are more likely to act if you ‘hold out the hand rather than point the finger.’

We promote local producers, crafts, and local associations and events. Community is key. Part of what makes visiting Saussignac interesting is diversity, winegrowers, and other farmers, but also artists, jewellery makers and other artisans. Saussignac is a ‘territoire bio engagé’, an engaged organic territory, meaning at least 35% of its arable land is under organic farming (the commune is well over this – closer to 50%), pesticides have been eradicated from commune maintenance, and at least 35% of the school canteen food is organic.

Another important part of communication is asking for feedback. We ask for guest feedback in general to date not specifically on climate change or environment. As I write this, I am prompted to include a question asking our customer’s opinion of our environmental approach and actions; and to ask for their suggestions.

Using our farm as a place for environmental education

As farmers and tourism providers we have a unique opportunity and responsibility to act and to educate on environment.

Every visitor hears about organic and biodynamic farming as part of any Chateau Feely visit from the 1 hour visit to a full day visit. We also set up a short self-guided walking route called the organic and biodynamic trail, a set of boards and online information (https://chateaufeely.com/visits/organic-and-biodynamic-trail/ ) for guests who have not booked a guided visit. The last board of this visit talks about wider environmental challenges https://chateaufeely.com/visits/organic-and-biodynamic-trail/make-a-difference/ . My books about our farm journey have also provided a way to connect with people and share these ideas beyond the farm (https://chateaufeely.com/caro-feely-series-grape-expectations-saving-our-skins-and-glass-half-full/ ).

As part of our outreach, we offer the one hour visit free for classes and student groups and have welcomed the local primary school at harvest time several times. These visits focus on organic and biodynamic farming.

We also offer free virtual climate crisis talks to our online community, a chance to exchange and explore on this critical subject. Please join our mailing list at Chateaufeely.com if you would like to hear about these in the future.

To date we have not explored climate change and GHG emissions explicitly as part of our guided, on farm, visits. From season 2022 the climate crisis will be included as part of the discussion on all our visits.

Future Ideas

Labelling the CO2 level of each tour we offer.

Another initiative in planning is labelling the CO2 emissions of each visit we offer. Like everything, if we measure it, we can manage it, and people can book eyes wide open.

See this article on an adventure company that has labelled the CO2 emissions of its tours. https://www.treehugger.com/should-all-travel-companies-adopt-carbon-labeling-5211375

Decreasing CO2 – not only in the tourism products on offer.

During the Bergerac Route des Vins meeting on sustainable development mentioned earlier, the president of the Bergerac Route des Vins, asked the group if we needed to get down to concrete principles? ‘Do we go so far as to say, for example, that to not contribute further to climate change, we only hire people that live less than 50km away?’

It’s helpful to get down to concrete examples like this. A 50km each way commute so 100km return trip generates about 15kg of CO2 (based on a standard petrol vehicle on standard consumption of around 6.5litres per 100km and 2.31kg of CO2 per litre burned).

According to IPCC research for us to keep within a warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius each human must limit their annual carbon footprint to the equivalent of 2.5 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. That works out to 6.85 kilograms per day. A commute of 100km consumes more than double this. Even if the commute were halved to stay in this range, there would be no CO2 budget left for food or anything else. We do need to consider how much CO2 it takes for our team to get to work.

For vineyards in rural areas not served by public transport and too far from centres for employees to walk or bike to work, it’s not easy. Perhaps we can organise some days working from home to avoid unnecessary travel. That’s just one small part of the sustainable puzzle. (I recommend reading Alter’s article on what this CO2 limit means for your diet https://www.treehugger.com/green-food/what-can-you-eat-if-you-are-living-15-degree-lifestyle.html.)

Conclusion

Sustainable wine tourism puts environmental sustainability at the heart of every decision about tourism at the wine estate and about every choice made. It is thinking beyond this quarter or this year, to the next decade and beyond. Given the global climate crisis it is about making considerations of greenhouse gas emissions central to all decisions about tourism we already offer, and about future wine tourism offers. With the nature and beauty of vineyards we are in a unique position to share our passion for nature, for preserving our amazing earth, and thus encourage and be catalysts for change.

Do you have ideas for us? Thoughts you would like to share? Please get in touch with caro.feely@chateaufeely.com.

For details of what we have done as a wine business rather than specifically wine tourism see Chateau Feely Sustainability Actions article on JancisRobinson.com  https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/wwc20-ch-feely-bergerac.

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