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Moët Hennessy includes some of the best wineries and champagne houses in the world. Former perfume manager Sandrine Sommer has been responsible for their sustainable development since 2020. Are the expensive projects more than just marketing? Kristine Bäder asked.

It is regarded as "the biggest event for solutions for our planet". The "Change now" trade fair took place for the third time last May at the Grand Palais Éphémère in Paris. Experts in sustainability, climate and environmental protection, start-ups and large companies with ideas for sustainable living came together in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. Forums, discussion panels and a large presentation area for large and small solutions attracted around 35,000 participants from 120 countries to the temporary event hall on the Champ de Mars in Paris during the three-day event, according to the organisers. Moët Hennessy was also among the exhibitors with an unusually simple and understated stand. The wine and spirits division of the luxury group LVMH presented its sustainability and climate protection projects to the public. It includes the champagne houses Krug, Dom Pérignon, Ruinart, Veuve Cliquot, Moët & Chandon and Armand de Brignac as well as nine wineries - including Château d'Yquem, Cheval Blanc and Cloudy Bay.

Sandrine Sommer has been responsible for all sustainability strategies at Moët Hennessy since 2020.

Moët Hennessy

At Vinexpo Paris 2020, the company announced three fundamental decisions for the wineries and champagne houses: no herbicides in the vineyards, the founding of the "Living Soils University" and programmes for more biodiversity. This was followed the following year by the company's sustainability programme, which focuses primarily on soil regeneration and protection, climate protection and social responsibility projects. Finally, in 2022, Moët Hennessy initiated the first World Living Soils Forum in Arles, France, to which many specialists on topics such as regenerative agriculture, biodiversity and agro-forestry were invited. The forum in the future is to be held every two years - those responsible used this year's break to present their work in Paris at Change Now.

Sandrine Sommer is responsible for the company's development towards sustainability and nature conservation. She moved within the LVMH Group from perfume and make-up producer Guerlain to Moët Hennessy in 2020. She had already developed a sustainability strategy for Guerlain. "At Guerlain, we started to develop the topic and then introduced a concrete programme. At Moët Hennessy, it was initially a matter of collecting and structuring the various initiatives and commitments of the individual wineries and houses," explains the "Chief Sustainability Officer", who, according to her title, has the responsibility of a board member. The Living Soils initiative now bundles the projects of the sustainability programme for all wineries in the wine and spirits division. As part of Change Now 2023, she took part in a panel discussion on regenerative agriculture and was available for an interview at wein.plus.

Work in the "Vitiforestry" biodiversity project of the Ruinart champagne house.


Looking for solutions with lightweight glass

Coming from the cosmetics industry, Sandrine Sommer first had to familiarise herself with the sustainability requirements of wineries, which were new to her. "At Guerlain, it was about the ingredients and components that we purchased and also about the packaging. For example, switching from plastic to glass," she explains the differences. She also came across the topic of glass again in the wine sector: "For us, it's about finding ways to reduce our CO2 emissions." They are currently looking for solutions with lightweight glass bottles and a higher proportion of recycled glass.

For Sandrine Sommer, reducing CO2 emissions in particular will be one of the major challenges in the coming years. "And along the entire value chain," she emphasises. This is another reason why all partners need to be involved, regardless of whether they are glass manufacturers or the employees of the individual wineries. "We support them in the practical implementation of regenerative working methods. In doing so, we are also supporting our terroir." Due to the different conditions in the Group's wine estates around the world, Moët Hennessy's requirements are adapted to the individual houses. "In Champagne, we don't have a problem with water; there we focus on regenerative agriculture. In the south of France, the weather is hot and dry, so we are pushing for organic certification there."

"We have to adapt to terroir, knowledge and culture"

Organic, regenerative and at the same time particularly sustainable - isn't that a contradiction that many experts point out? "I don't believe that working organically contradicts working sustainably. We have to adapt to the climate, the terroir, the knowledge and the culture," says Sandrine Sommer. Organic cultivation is an intermediate step that is ultimately not enough. Château Galoupet in the south of France, for example, is certified organic, is now using more regenerative techniques than before and is working towards greater biodiversity. In Argentina, on the other hand, Terrazas de los Andes has opted for ROC certification (Regenerative Organic Certified). At the end of June, the winery became the tenth winery in the world to receive the regenerative organic certification, which, in addition to organic farming, pays particular attention to regenerative agriculture, animal welfare and social justice. "Social responsibility is not just about ensuring that employees have good working conditions. We also have to promote moderate wine consumption," explains Sandrine Sommer. On the LVMH website, there is a 32-page code of conduct to which every employee must commit and which deals with environmental protection and responsible behaviour, among other things.

Data is collected and analysed throughout the year to measure sustainable development within the company. "We really want to drastically reduce CO2 emissions. Thanks to lighter bottles, renewable energy and new transport routes, we were able to reduce CO2 emissions by seven per cent last year." More transport with Sailing Cargo instead of aircraft is one of these levers: "We can only make progress if we collect and analyse data."

The Frenchwoman sees the fact that Moët Hennessy and LVMH primarily sell luxury products as part of their responsibility. "We are convinced that we should be pioneers. We have a clear responsibility in the industry - but also towards our customers," she emphasises. "People buy an expensive product from a prestigious brand. Of course they expect that from us."

So is it all just marketing? "It's a real conviction. As a leader and a large company, we have a huge responsibility and it is particularly important to be sustainable in our sector." Healthy soils and biodiversity are the prerequisites for good wines. And, of course, customers' expectations in terms of sustainability are higher in the luxury segment. So marketing after all? "For me, sustainability is not the cherry on the cake, but a key strategy for the future of our company." For young people in particular, values and a sense of purpose are important criteria for their work. "If you want to continue to attract the best talent for your company in the future, you have to have this focus on sustainability."

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