How regenerative viticulture is moving the industry ‘beyond sustainability’

Alfred Vernis
Marcel Planellas
Verónica Devenin

‘In some areas where vines are grown now, we won't be able to grow in the future due to drought or because higher temperatures will considerably reduce the quality of the grape varieties’. These words from Familia Torre’s director of climate change identify the challenge the wine industry is facing.  

Mitigation, such as the implementation of renewable energies, energy efficiency, and sustainable mobility, help reduce emissions that cause climate change. Such efforts have an impact globally, but not necessarily at the local level.  

The wine industry depends on soil, water availability, and climate (the right balance between daytime heat and nighttime cold) and so needs additional strategies. 

One strategy is to abandon the land and look for new terroirs that enable the production of quality wines, as well as searching for more resilient varieties and making genetic improvements. Another strategy is to regenerate the terroirs, focusing on recovering the health of the soil, and its ability to retain water and capture carbon. 

This is a strategy that helps reverse climate change from the local sphere of action, and increases the resilience of the terroir. Professors Alfred Vernis, Marcel Planellas (Esade Business School), and Verónica Devenin (Eada Business School) wrote a teaching case about how Familia Torres is considering regenerative viticulture as a ‘beyond sustainability’ strategy.  

The case enables a discussion on the challenges of a regenerative approach, which means changing several deeply-rooted farming practices. Although the regenerative approach is promising and consistent with the family motto ‘the more we take care of the land, the better wine we produce’, the uncertainties enable a discussion about the value of this strategy.  

The case also highlights the challenges of the ‘do less harm’ sustainability strategy followed by much of the mainstream wine industry. This dilemma is being faced in a challenging commercial context and the COVID pandemic has disrupted many company plans. 

Regenerative agriculture is becoming an important trend. Several of the world's leading food companies have embarked on projects along these lines. Danone has stated: ‘regenerative agriculture lies at the heart of Danone's commitments to achieve zero emissions by 2050.’ Unilever has introduced ‘Regenerative Agriculture Principles’ for all its suppliers.  

Multinationals from other sectors, such as Patagonia and Kering in textiles, are also moving in this direction. This case contributes to the introduction and discussion of the regenerative approach (which is a step beyond sustainability) in business schools.  

This teaching case has been included in the SEKN Collection by Harvard Business Publishing, and won the Silver Award at the 2022 Annual Meeting of the North American Case Research Association in Niagara Falls, Canada. 

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