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Torres: Visionary Leaders in Combat of Climate Change

Miguel Torres Maczassek is a member of the fifth generation of the world-renowned Torres wine family. Trained in both business (ESADE in Barcelona) and oenology (Tarragona University) Miguel Torres Maczassek took on the title of general manager of Torres Group in 2012, succeeding his father, Miguel A. Torres. Like his father, Miguel Torres Maczassek brings a passion for both the business side and the viticultural, winemaking side of Torres’ operations. Like his father, Miguel Torres Maczassek is supporting the family vision of building a winery that is not only a leading business but one with its vision squarely on reducing its impact on the environment, and support others in the same question.

 

ASI: The first and obvious question is when and why did Familia Torres set out on this journey to combat climate change?

Miguel Torres Maczassek: We formally started with our Torres & Earth program in 2008 after my parents saw Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth”, realizing that we were not doing enough as a winery and that we had to accelerate. Of course, ecology was always part of our winery’s philosophy: we live from the earth and we are also a family-owned company, so this combination always lead us – and still does – to care for our land and resources — not just for this generation, but also for future generations. So, at the time a family meeting was immediately organized, and we decided to focus even more on sustainability and to invest 10 million EUR for a period of 10 years in our sustainability program ‘Torres & Earth’. In the end we actually invested more than € 15 million since then in renewable energy, biomass, electric cars, energy efficiency, adaptation of our vineyards, reforestation and research.

And the 2020 target we defined at the time (to reduce CO2 emissions by 30% per bottle by 2020 across the entire emissions scope – so from vineyard to consumer – compared to 2008 levels), we reached a year ahead of schedule with a reduction of 34%. For 2030, our goal is now to achieve a minimum 60% reduction with the intention of reaching even 70%, becoming a winery with zero net emissions by 2040.

It is clear that there is a limit to what our planet can handle, but especially what our vines can handle! With rising temperatures many agricultural products – if water is available – will continue to be cultivated without any big noticeable difference to the consumer, while in the case of wine, quality and/or the quantity will be affected. Practically all vine growers in the world already noticed climate change 3 to 4 decades ago, as vines are very sensitive to temperature changes. So, we need to drastically decarbonize our world economy to contain the increase in global temperature between 1.5 ºC and 2 ºC at the end of the century and this requires the participation of all: Obviously, each company must have its own sustainability program: in our case we have our Torres & Earth program, but I think the key word for the coming years is to work together; also as a wine-sector.

For that reason, Jackson Family Wines and we co-founded IWCA as a working group in February 2019 in Barcelona; we wanted to act and move beyond “just talking” about the urgency of climate change. Our goal was to gather the most environmentally committed wineries, and we hoped our initiative would work as a boost for other wineries to accelerate or start their carbon emissions reduction programs. So, it is great to see that we are now more than 20 wineries worldwide and this last October, IWCA presented its Annual Report in London and it was of course great to hear from guest presenter Fiona Macklin from the UN-backed ‘Race to Zero’ Campaign that “With IWCA being the first Partner initiative from the food and agriculture sector in Race to Zero, IWCA is demonstrating leadership and rigour in managing its members to meet the robust, science-aligned criteria needed to race towards a better, healthier, zero carbon world.” So, we are going in the right direction, but we need more wineries to sign up and who start or accelerate sustainability programs.

 

ASI: The Torres family is well-known for their work on reducing their impact on the environment and creating positive solutions to counter the   impacts of climate change? Can you explain how your ancestrale varietal and regenerative farming projects fit within the company’s mandate of being good stewards of the land and the environment?

Miguel Torres Maczassek: Our ancestral grape variety project didn’t really start as a climate change project; the project was set-up to bring back forgotten (pre-phylloxera) grape varieties out of a sort of cultural heritage responsibility; almost an exercise in viticultural archaeology; it was really much later that we found a relation with climate change. My father started it in the 80s, thanks to Professor Boubals (of Montpellier University where my father studied for a year) who suggested that although phylloxera had been devastating, it was reasonable to think that one might still find a few old vines that had survived somewhere, somehow. Back in Spain my father then started with the project by placing ads in local and regional newspaper, calling on farmers to get in touch with us if they came across vines they could not identify. Now after more than 30 years we have managed to find and revive more than 60 unknown Catalan varieties, but only 6 are really interesting from a winemaking perspective.

But coming back to your question: as a lucky side-result, we also found that some of these forgotten grape varieties are late-ripening varieties and moreover some of them turned out to be very resistant to drought and heat; all of course very positive characteristics to cope with climate change, especially the fact that the late ripening goes hand in hand with relatively high acidity.

Therefore, we as the 5th generation actually added climate change as an additional selection criterium and started to plant these vines beyond an experimental scale to transform the project into wines that can be brought to market. Next to Garró and Querol – that form part of the Grans Muralles blend – the other selected varieties then became Gonfaus, Pirene, Moneu and Forcada. Of the last one – Forcada – we released a very limited edition during the course of 2019/2020 and Moneu was just released recently as blend with Tempranillo and Garnacha as ‘Clos Ancestral’. We think that by returning to the past and reviving varieties used by our ancestors, we can look to the future and find the kind of authenticity that will result in extraordinary wines. For your information, we also expanded our search to other wine regions in Spain such as Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Rueda, and Rias Baixas.

The other point you are referring to is our new regenerative farming project, which also perfectly fits under our mandate of being good stewards of the land and the environment. During the past years and due to the effects of Climate Change we have been asking ourselves, which is the best way to better manage the vineyards under this great challenge. Although most of our vineyards are organic certified, we have seen that neither organic, or other ways to manage the vineyards, make no direct reference or set clear objectives regarding the carbon cycle and how to fix it again in the soil. It is clear how the degradation of vineyard soils all over the world, through decades of intense use, have decreased their capacity to hold life in them – especially microbial life – and thus they are not contributing much to sequester carbon anymore. Solutions are also needed regarding questions like delaying the ripening, facing droughts and avoid erosion as well.

And so, we believed that a new way of understanding our vineyards was essential and that we should look for a new balance in our vineyards by having a more holistic conception of the land. Regenerative viticulture is based on a simple yet complex objective: imitate nature as much as possible, like a forest would do. Our main objective is to bring back life to the soils and regenerate them. That means reducing or avoid ploughing, working with spontaneous or planted cover crops the whole year, increasing the formation of humus, bringing any vegetal material from the vineyard back to the vineyard again, just to mention some. A soil with higher organic material can capture carbon through the cover crops and animal management, so it can help us to lower the CO2 that is already in our atmosphere, improve water retention, delay the ripening and avoid erosion. This is not an immediate process, and it will take between 4 to 10 years in a Mediterranean climate to consolidate results.

So, the objective is to reach a new balance based on increasing biodiversity and organic matter in a natural way, thus enhancing the role of our vineyards to capture carbon from the atmosphere. It is a paradigm shift in vineyard management, but I believe it is necessary since regenerative viticulture is currently the only solution that allows storing atmospheric carbon in the soil and fighting against climate change.

 

ASI: With properties in Chile and Spain, do you need to adapt your philosophies and approach to align with the specific climatic conditions of each region?

Basically, this is what we are doing all the time in viticulture: finding the special spots, finding the unique terroir, finding the optimal climate conditions for a specific grape. But in this search for finding the ideal combination for every grape variety, climate conditions have turned to be a key-factor in the past 20 years, especially the availability of water. About 10-15 years ago it, water availability wasn’t a key question we would ask ourselves when planting vines or buying vineyards. Unfortunately, in the past years it has turned into a very important question. For example, when we bought 230 hectares of land in the Itata valley in Chile in 2014, one of the key criteria to decide for this area was the fact that a river was flowing nearby.

So, as mentioned before, there is really a limit to what our planet can handle and if temperatures continue to rise and drought continues to grow as many scientists forecast, we will be heading for big problems and changes. And this could well mean that the map of vine growing regions could change dramatically. I don’t think this would mean that vine growing would disappear from our home area Penedes, but maybe in 20 years we have to start thinking to replant towards grape varieties that are more resistant to high temperatures and water-stress.

 

ASI: Making positive steps towards reducing one’s own impact on the climate also extends to sustainability in winemaking practices and operations? How is Torres adapting its winery facilities to reduce carbon footprint?

Miguel Torres Maczassek: As mentioned before, our Torres & Earth program included a relatively wide approach of measures which like renewable energies, such as the use of Solar Photovoltaics panels and a biomass boiler, eco-efficiency in transport such as bottle weight reduction, optimization of water use, biodiversity projects and adaption measures in the vineyards. Just to give you some concrete examples: in our winery in our home area in the Penedès we have more than 12.000m2 of Solar panels installed and a biomass boiler which reduced our gas consumption by 90% and electricity by 10%. With the biomass boiler and the solar panels together, we are now covering more than 30% of our electrical needs with this green energy generated by ourselves. And in the case of reducing bottle weight: since 2008 we have for example reduced the weight of the 75 cl Bordeaux-style bottle by 30% and the bottle of our flagship wine Mas La Plana now weighs 38% lighter than in 2008.

But as pointed out before, we believe that apart from implementing carbon footprint reduction projects in our winery, a new way of understanding our vineyards – a more holistic approach – is needed and that is why we started with the implementation of Regenerative Viticulture in more than 500 hectares of our organic vineyards spread across the Penedès, Priorat, Conca de Barberà, and Costers del Segre. I think that by preserving the fertility of our soils – by looking for that new balance based on increasing biodiversity and organic matter – we can contribute to preserve the Earth for future generations.

ASI: What can sommeliers do be part of this change?

Miguel Torres Maczassek: Deliver the message to your clients, to your followers, to your network. Sommeliers and journalists are key influencers in the wine sector, who have often started or contributed to change. And I think for the first time in the history we have consumers that not only care about the quality, but also want to know how a wine is made: eg Organic, Fair Trade, but very important how sustainable is the winery: what kind of sustainability philosophy/program has been implemented; how serious is the approach, is the winery covering all scopes, are they certified etc. I believe that sustainability is an important extra dimension about a wine, that must be talked about. And it is great to see that ASI is very active putting climate change and sustainability high on the agenda by organizing all kinds of activities like for example this webinar.

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