Sentient Wine & Alcohol Brands Amp up Organic and Sustainable Messaging

Children's drawing of a whale that says save the sea ice

Climate Change art: the new curriculum

In 2018 – before the name Greta was etched into our consciousness – I was in a grade 3 classroom user-testing an environmental app for kids that explored climate change and plastic pollution in our oceans.

Predictably, the students told us the app was buggy (which it was), and had way too much text (which it did). Despite these faults, the students LOVED the game. What they really appreciated though, was the important gameplay balance between fun, ocean discovery and the honest, unvarnished truth around species and biodiversity loss.

One activist student was less kind in his feedback, delivering a searing indictment of my generation: “How did parents allow this to happen?” he demanded. “You’re adults. Adults are supposed to know better. You’re supposed to take care of kids. If greenhouse gases and plastic are destroying the planet and killing ocean life, why don’t you fix the problem?”

A year later Greta launched her monstrously successful “You are Failing Us – Fridays for Future” campaign. Young people around the world echoed the concerns of my distraught grade 3 student questioning the sanity and motivations of politicians, business owners and parents who collectively, allowed this dereliction of duty to happen.

How perverse that suddenly, children were gatekeepers of adults, saddled with the responsibility of saving our planet.


children's pictures of australian fires and koalas at risk 
Art therapy!


Greta Thunberg - climate activist on GQ magazine cover


The Eyes of all Future Generations are Upon You…(Greta Thunberg)

My environmental accountability changed that day.

I issued a family edict of no more single use plastics! We re-organized our car trunk so we had a ‘no-excuse’ inventory of reusable bags. We studied the dreaded recycling calendar to be more literate, 5R recyclers. We shifted our buying to environmentally friendly house-hold products, bought less red meat, ate more plant-based meals and agreed Amazon orders would end… (95% successful). Our buy-local consumption increased dramatically, we turned down the thermostat, de-lamped, replaced all household bulbs with LED, and drive less (Covid helps).

As a wine writer/wine lover, I started evaluating alcohol producer’s farming practices and environmental track records. Were there healthier ways to farm grapes and make wine? How were they managing their carbon footprint? What energy reduction strategies were they putting in place? Annoyingly, for some, I also started weighing wine bottles (transport emissions!!) and evaluating packaging. Could glass weigh less?  Were there more environmentally friendly packaging options? Was it recyclable?


Vodkow Vodka reduced waste sustainability analysis along side milk bottle
Vodkow – Dairy Distillery did a cradle-to-grave lifecycle analysis of Vodkow’s carbon footprint. Their vodka transforms unused milk sugar into vodka. Using waste is better for the planet and helps local dairy farmers. Their milk bottle design (fun!) weighs 50% less than other glass vodka bottles so half the carbon footprint. Purchasing carbon offsets gets them to carbon neutral.

Ruinart Champagne's new eco-friendly packaging
An energy audit showed packaging accounted for 38% of Ruinart Champagne’s greenhouse emissions, vs 5–6% for its viticulture. Ruinart’s newly introduced second-skin, reusable eco case is 100% recyclable, uses NO plastic, is nine times lighter than their gift box and its carbon footprint is 60% less than its previous cardboard packaging. Photo Credit: LVMH

Steam Whistle bottle and case, incorporate sustainable values and ingredient informationSteam Whistle Packaging: Reusable, recyclable, transparency plus!
WTF is a foam enhancer????

Eager to help spread the good word, I introduced my readers to planet-friendly winemakers making a difference. I reached out to environmental guardians-of-the-galaxy Steve Matthiasson in Napa, Jean Michelle Comme in Bordeaux, the Bernard Family at Domaine de Chevalier in Pessac Leognan and the environmental standard in Canada, Ann Sperling of Southbrook (and others).

Green, sustainabliity map of Southbrook VineyardsThey don’t get much greener than Southbrook Vineyards

I am not a paragon of virtue and as Ann Sperling said in our interview, we can and should be doing SO MUCH MORE. But being asked to account for climate change inaction and explain my generation’s appalling environmental record to grade 3 students that day, was my wake-up call.

The good news (yes, it exists)?

I think this grim era of upheaval is causing a lotta people to look deeper.

As the effects of climate change become more pronounced, every government, every industry, every business and every consumer has some reckoning to do. A trickle of industry innovation is now a flood. Organic, sustainable planet-friendly and ethical brands are stepping up. I’d argue it’s the ‘cost of entry’ in every consumer category out there. As Cameron Diaz, co-founder of the shiny new wine brand Avaline said in an interview recently: “The organic aisle in the grocery store with no traffic? It’s different now. This is what our modern consumers are demanding. Transparency and better-for-you products.”

Twitter post by Jason Haas talking about California fires and climate change
Twitter: Tablas Creek is the first vineyard in the world to be Regenerative Organic Certified. One of the key pillars of ROC is that farming must be an agent for fighting climate change and reducing the use of non-renewable resources. Check out Jason Haas’s blog (after mine :).

The climate change crisis has arrived and now we have a moral imperative to act. The food we buy, the brands we support, it’s all connected. Between the PTSD of January’s Australian fires, polar region melting ice and watching millions of acres of the western US coast burn on their screens every night, a generation of children is witnessing a scale of climate change devastation and destruction that’s bleak and traumatizing. And it demands accountability.

It’s something to think about as we link the wine, beer and spirits in our glass to the environmental attitudes, and sustainability practices of the producers we support.

Villa MAria in New Zealand - sustainability commitment on their website

Villa Maria’s sustainability commitment. Does your favourite wine brand have a mission statement or core values on their website?


Committing to Sustainability is a Business Imperative

For producers who are wavering on the need for an energy audit or plastic/waste mitigation strategy or water consumption reduction plan – hoping this too shall pass – it may be useful to revisit your core(porate) values and beliefs. Do you have a mission statement? A Future Forward strategy? An environmental action plan, environmental metrics?

Nielsen chart on gender demand for environmental best practices showing millenails and Gen Z care the mostResearch Source: Nielsen

Consumers are holding businesses to account and increasingly, factoring their sustainable business practices into their purchase decisions. This is especially true of Gen Z and Millennial consumers, and there is research up the ying yang to support this:

Nielsen – 73% of consumers claim that they are willing to change their purchasing habits to reduce their environmental impact; Unilever – 33% of customers are explicitly buying from brands they believe are doing social or environmental good with sustainable brands growing 50% faster than conventional products; IRI Data Tracking – sustainability-marketed products are responsible for more than half of the growth in consumer packaged goods (CPGs) since 2013; Kearney Management Consultants – 58% of Gen Z internet users in the US and Canada want eco-friendly packaging, and 57% want environmentally sustainable products; Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2020 – Almost three-quarters said the pandemic has made them more sympathetic toward others’ needs (n=9,102) and they won’t hesitate to penalize companies whose stated and practiced values conflict with their own (n=27.5K millennials and Gen Zs).

And so on and so forth (as my mother would say with a dismissive wave of her hand signifying END of conversation and just do it!).

What do customers want?

Talk radio, the news, the latest LCBO flyer in my mailbox (!) all indicate there’s a momentum shift going on. Between the pandemic turning the world upside down and climate change, consumers are moving from a passive interest to active awareness of eco-impacts.

In the wine and beer world, a significant slice of consumers are adopting organic, sustainable and healthier options.

Some want clean, simple products with less stuff – like sugar, calories and alcohol. The success of the Hard Seltzer category offers ample evidence of that.

Others, believe a product’s taste profile improves when there’s no added preservatives or synthetic ingredients.

Still others are rallying behind brands specifically because of their business ethics and social responsibility initiatives (B Corp, 1% for the planet).

Source: Global Wine Trends 2020

But as this study indicates, the environmental lingo is hard to sort out. This research from Wine Intelligence (Global Wine Trends 2020) shows the majority of consumers in Canada and the US think ‘sustainably produced’ and ‘environmentally friendly’ are important wine claims but they’re significantly less motivated by biodynamic and carbon-neutral claims – which is the hard evidence supporting these umbrella statements.  TMI? Similarly, biodynamic agriculture and viticulture is the gold standard in planet friendly, regenerative farming but is clearly an unknown certification to most consumers, ranking lower than organic in the research. (Biodynamic farming is the highest standard for agriculture around the world and one of the greatest opportunities to address climate health.)

chart showing what consumers care about and what producers are selling. Some want to know it's better for them, others want it to be better for the planet


What are Producers Selling?
The ME to WE Marketing Continuum

Of course, data-savvy producers know exactly who their customers are and what features and benefits they want from a brand. Brands like Avaline, helmed by Katherine Power, one of the most seasoned digital marketers in the industry, are sitting on years of consumer insights and millions of data points. They know what consumers want and are using social channels to make brand engagement empowering and personal.

Avaline wine Instagram page

“Organically” positioned brands like Avaline, newly launched Coors Organic and the first Organic Hard Seltzer from Anheiser Busch Maha, strategically position their wine/beer/spirts as a clean, more healthy offering. I call this ME Marketing – brands that target a health and wellness value system.

At the other end of the “values continuum” are brands that lead from the heart. They’re mission driven, value-focused and marketing is rooted in better outcomes for the planet.

Fat Tire Beer WebsiteFat Tire by New Belgium. Their website navigation – Force for Good, Environmental Metrics, Sustainability Report- places them squarely in the WE camp.

These smart companies are using their social platforms to put a stake in the ground and share their core values (Bonterra Wines, King Estate, Mill St. Craft Beer). Some, like beer brand Fat Tire are taking their message to the masses, paying big $$$ for a traditional media presence in magazines, newspapers and radio (we’ll do a deep dive on these brands in part 2).

I describe this as WE Marketingbeer/wine/spirits brands that consider ecological stewardship and ethical stewardship as a top business priority.

This approach to selling wine or beer or dish soap, for that matter, is often called corporate social responsibility (CSR). It means moving beyond a strictly ‘brand sell’ focus and aligning your company with causes and values you deem important. In the investment world, investors can align their values with ESG fundsenvironment, social and governance – and help propel ethical brands forward. In the consumer packaged goods (CPG) and agriculture sector – including the alcohol brands – we see community initiatives supporting the hospitality industry, diversity, equity and inclusion. All these charitable causes fall under the sustainability umbrella.

I’ve worked in marketing for 35 plus years, in more categories than I care to recall. I love nothing more than deconstructing advertising and marketing campaigns – especially when it’s wine and especially when the stakes around “creating change” are so high.

In my next blog post, we’ll dive into wine and beer brands that sit on different ends of the ME to WE values continuum.Please come back for more!

And remember, Friday September 25, The Global Day for Climate Action Friday for Futures socially distanced sit-in. Let’s show kids we care!!

Poster for the Global Day of Climate Action


Feature Image: Tablas Creek, Paso Robles – farmed organically and biodynamically

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