In 2011, Italy’s Ministry for the Environment & Protection of the Land and Sea launched the national VIVA project “Sustainability in Italian viticulture”, to improve sustainability in the wine production chain through analysis of four scientifically recognised indicators based on international standards and laws: Air (climate footprint), Water (hydro footprint), Vineyard (impact of agronomic management practices) and Territory (socio-economic-cultural impact).

Nine companies took part in the pilot phase of the project, including Michele Chiarlo, a winery in Calamandra in the province of Asti with some important vineyards in the Langhe, including Cannubi, Cerequio and Asili. We talked to Stefano Chiarlo to find out more about what the company’s involvement in a national protocol entails and what results it brings.

Mr Chiarlo, is sustainability a sales driver too? Does it steer the purchasing choices of more aware consumers?

«It’s still too early to say. For us, this is the natural continuation of an initially philosophical approach we adopted many years ago. Our wine has always been sustainable. An eminent third-party certification like the VIVA protocol is an additional factor, which certainly enhances our brand, but it is not a watershed in our approach and style. As I said, we were already sustainable.»

Which vineyards (and wines) did you begin with?

«With Barolo Cannubi in 2010 and since 2013 we have extended application of the protocol to all the other crus.»

How do you work in the vineyard?

«We’re organic. We don’t use weedkillers, we use a variety of vegetation for the sod cover of the rows of vines depending on the characteristics of the soil. For example, we prefer woody vegetation on marl, to keep the nitrogen in the soil, whereas on sandy soil we use species that absorb water well. An analysis we commissioned from the university shows that the soil of our Cerequio cru has a biodiversity similar to that of a coppice woodland and the soil is complete and clean even when you dig deeper.»

And in the wine cellar?

«We wanted to lower carbon emissions, for example by making the bottles 30{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622} lighter, we’ve cut water use for rinsing by recycling water, we’ve replaced wooden cases with recycled cardboard cases, and above all we’ve invested in personnel training, to foster virtuous change throughout the entire chain. What convinced us about the VIVA protocol is that while it is a serious and structured system, it allows us to keep quality as our top objective.»

In other words, you can implement smart, personalised agronomic practices?

«Yes. I’d go further: we’ve observed that our grapes are healthier on average than those grown in an organic system, and this means we can reduce use of treatments. In 2014, which was a difficult wet year, we only used copper sulphate 10 times, compared with an average of 15 for the other producers. So despite fewer treatments, we had healthier grapes, which means our soil is cleaner too.»

Is sustainability economic as well as environmental? What impact has all this had on your books?

«The initial stage involves significant outlay: to cut energy consumption we installed a latest-generation boiler, we purchased a bottling system that operates virtually in a vacuum or by replacing residual oxygen with inert gas like nitrogen: this enables us to achieve a sharp reduction in use of sulphites, of up to 30{f94e4705dd4b92c5eea9efac2f517841c0e94ef186bd3a34efec40b3a1787622}. Of course, you spend more at first, but you offset the impact over time and above all there is an immediate gain in terms of the sustainability of the wine and of production as a whole.»

Has this also had an effect on pricing?

«No, because pricing involves different factors, such as the rarity of the wine, market trends and so on. And we’ve also decided not to offload on to customers an independent company policy we’ve been following for years, even before VIVA.»

How do you tell consumers about this green revolution?

«Through the label, first of all, which has a QR code providing full information about the carbon footprint and the sustainable practices we follow. W

 

e also put a vademecum illustrating the principles of the Chiarlo policy in cases being packed for shipping.»