Once you have a glass of your favourite spirit or cocktail in your hand, you rarely think about how it was produced.
But climate change is a reality, as is the environmental sustainability of the crops and vineyards that we rely on for our food and drink.
This became clear to me on a trip to the Charente region in France, where I learnt more about what the team at Rémy Martin are doing to ensure they can deliver a sustainable spirit from the first to the last drop.
The Alliance Fine Champagne co-operative (AFC) is a group of more than 800 winemakers and farmers in the region, from which Rémy Martin receives either its grapes or eau-de-vie (a clear, colourless fruit brandy that is produced by means of fermentation and double distillation).
Resistant grape varieties constitute a key element of the harvest.
“It is a major tool to meet this priority objective for the Cognac sector.
These new grape varieties, which are tolerant or resistant to the most common annual diseases of the vine (mildew, powdery mildew), are obtained by natural hybridisation and constitute a major lever for developing practices leading to environmental excellence,” said Rémy Martin.
For a brand that has built a legacy on its heritage of patiently waiting for its cognacs to mature, the sustainability of the vineyards is crucial.
“Do no harm” is top of mind because this is the only region from which they can harvest, and there is no back-up. In partnership with the French government, they have worked towards High Environmental Value (HVE) Certification.
This requires a focus on four main elements in the vineyards: biodiversity, phytosanitary strategy, fertilisation and water management.
The steps towards this certification are staggered:
Level 1: compliance with key environmental regulatory practices.
Level 2: implementation of sound environmental practices in line with a frame of reference comprising 16 requirements.
Level 3 / HVE: maximum level of excellence of the process for farms with a high level of biodiversity and very low use of protection products.
A glimpse into the future was also unveiled during a tour of the vineyards.
Rémy Martin is testing the feasibility of a robot that will navigate the vineyards and root out weeds. The robot has been named Ted and is a prototype that is part of a research and development partnership with Naïo Technologies.
It’s a glimpse of viticulture’s future. Biodiversity is not overlooked and part of the strategy is creating “environmental corridors” in the vineyards, which allows for the re-establishment of nature (fauna, flora, insects) in the vines. One of the interventions is to plant landscape hedges, cultivating flower fallows for bees.
The year 1724 marked the beginning of Rémy Martin and it has been able to hold onto its traditions from that first harvest until today.
The teams in the vineyards, in the lab and in the cellars all have one goal, which is to create a spirit for the next generation.