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Bodegas Torres is one of the largest wine production and trading houses in the world. Founded in Catalonia in 1870, it now cultivates more than 2,100 hectares of vines in Spain, Chile and California. As early as in the mid-1980ies, it started to work organically, and sustainability is part of the company's mission statement, in which Bodegas Torres commits itself, among other things, to "contribute to the well-being of its employees and to efficient social progress, as well as to preserve the environment". Thus, the company practices integrated viticulture without herbicides and insecticides, invests in renewable energies, and participates in protection programs for forests and animals.

In an interview with Wein-Plus, Miguel A. Torres, president and CEO of Bodegas Torres, talks about "ecologically sustainable" wine, the further development of the EU directive, and organic wine in transatlantic trade.

Miguel A. Torres is one of the pioneers in sustainable viticulture. (Photo: Bodegas Torres)

Wein-Plus: What is - according to your conviction and experience - - the most important thing in organic viticulture?

Miguel Torres: I think the most important thing in organic viticulture is the idea behind it, the approach to stay as close as possible to nature. Some call it "minimal intervention"; at Torres, it's reflected in our winemaking philosophy: "The more we care for the earth, the better our wine."

Wein-Plus: Is your entire vineyard certified organic?

Miguel Torres: In Spain we now have over 600 hectares of certified organic vineyard, in Chile 350 hectares and in California 32 hectares. In Chile, all of our vineyards have been certified organic since March 2012; in Spain, we are at a ratio of 600 out of 1,800 hectares. We are certifying the remaining area piece by piece, but in fact we have been working organically in our vineyards for many years, completely eliminating synthetic chemical treatments and replacing them with organic alternatives.

We also each have our own line of organic wines: Our Spanish line is called "Habitat", our Chilean "Las Mulas", and my sister's wines in California are called the same - "Marimar".

Vineyards for the red wine "Grans Muralles" in the DO Conca de Barberà (photo: Bodegas Torres)

Wein-Plus: To what extent are climate change and organic wine connected?

Miguel Torres: I hope that organic wine will also take climate change into account in the future. The fact is that a wine that is produced according to ecological criteria does not automatically also work against climate change. Therefore, we are very much in favor of a new European category of "ecologically sustainable" wine, which would include new environmental aspects that go beyond the strictly regulated ones.

Last November, over 350 specialists gathered at the 3rd "EcoSostenibleWine" conference in Vilafranca del Penedès, and Torres was one of the main sponsors. The conference ended with a call to define the mechanisms for creating this new category that would define the cultivation and production of "eco-sustainable" wines.

One of the main results of the conference was that the existing production systems - integrated, organic and biodynamic viticulture - have different approaches and levels of requirements in terms of sustainability, but none really offers a holistic perspective that encompasses the maximum number of environmental aspects, such as the use of alternative energies, water management and water footprint, natural resources and biodiversity, carbon footprint, etc.

Vineyards in Priorato (Photo: Jordi Elias)

Wein-Plus: What has been your experience so far with the EU organic wine regulation? Have you had to adapt your oenological practices? If yes, in what way?

Miguel Torres: It's great that we now have a European directive; before, each country had its own regulation with different standards. According to the new European certification, we only had to make minor changes because we were already working according to the standards of the National Organic Program (NOP) of the United States, which is, in principle, one of the strictest programs in the world.

Let me give you an example: The Catalan Organic Standards (CCPAE) allowed ammonium sulfate as an extra nutrient for the yeasts, which is now no longer possible under the new EU regulation. In fact, we have almost never used it as we follow the minimal intervention approach. Beyond that, we do as much as we can in the vineyards to make sure the grapes reach our cellar with enough nutrients for a good and safe fermentation. What helps of course is the great terroir diversity in our vineyards with natural nutrients.

Vineyards in the Empedrado region of Chile (Photo: Bodegas Torres)

Wein-Plus: Are your organic wines produced differently in Chile or California than your organic wines in Spain? If so, what are the main differences?

Miguel Torres: Basically, it is very similar everywhere, because we have to follow the European regulations. And as I said before, we already worked according to the American NOP standard.

Wein-Plus: Do you think the EU eco-wine regulation is adequate? Does it implement and protect the principles of organic wine production in an appropriate way? What changes or improvements would you suggest?

Miguel Torres: It is good that we now have a directive for the whole of Europe. But as I said, we are advocating for a new category of "ecologically sustainable" wines, which would go a step further and include even more environmental aspects, like the ones mentioned before.

With regard to vineyards, for example, it should not be possible for an ecological vineyard to use metal stakes, which are made of galvanized iron and require a huge amount of energy to produce; instead, there should be wooden stakes. We have discussed this and many other points during the past seven years at "EcoSustainable".

Vines of the Jean León winery in the DO Penedès (Photo: Bodegas Torres)

Wein-Plus: How difficult or how easy is it for Bodegas Torres as an international company to import its organically produced wines from Chile or California into the EU and to market them as organic wines?

Miguel Torres: It's pretty easy as long as you have certifications that are recognized by the EU, such as the Swiss Institute for Market Ecology (IMO), which certifies our "Las Mulas" organic wines from Chile. Some countries (especially in Northern Europe) can apply for extraordinary conditions, independent of the EU regulation, because of their national recycling systems. But we don't see the extra paperwork that usually accompanies these extra regulations as a problem. In fact, we welcome them because these countries are implementing a long-term sustainability approach. As I often say, today many people only consider today's generation in their actions, but we should consider several generations. We need to act as individuals, as groups, as states, but also as an industry; and we are doing so: In June 2011, the "Wineries for Climate Protection" symposium was held in Barcelona, which ended with the "Barcelona Declaration". This called for a reduction of CO2 emissions by at least 20 percent by 2020, as well as five other environment-related action points. More than 150 wineries, among them being big and renowned ones, are participating in this initiative, and some of them - Torres included - are currently in the process of certification.

Incidentally, Torres aims to reduce its CO2 emissions per bottle by 30% in 2020 compared to 2008, and we are on target! One of our most recent investments is a biomass heating boiler - the largest of its kind in a Spanish winery - which came on stream during the last harvest and has reduced our electricity consumption by one million kilowatt hours (about ten percent of total consumption) and our gas consumption by 95 percent.

The Torres winery in the Priorato (Photo: Jordi Elias)

Wein-Plus: How difficult or how easy is it for you to export your organically produced wines from Spain to non-European markets and market them as organic wines?

Miguel Torres : We export to more than 160 countries all over the world and we have no specific problems with our organic wines.

Wein-Plus: Señor Torres, thank you for this interview.

Bodegas Torres in the wine guide

To the article "Organic wine in Europe - Part 1: Pays d'Oc wants to promote sustainable viticulture".

To the article "Organic wine in Europe - Part 2: Sealing the choice".

To the article "Organic wine in Europe - Part 4: The floodgates are open".

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