A groundbreaking approach to promote biodiversity with wine production

2022 / 12 / 21 | Author: enw_editor

(Photo by Kym Ellis via Unsplash)

Due to the effects of the climate crisis, grape harvests in traditionally wine-producing regions are suffering. Yields are especially low in France, Spain and Italy, which together produce 45% of the world’s wine. In Europe, effort is being put into developing varieties that can adapt to climate change. And in Japan, idle land is being transformed into vineyards that enrich biological diversity.

The link between wine production and thriving biodiversity

(Photo by Miho Soga)

Why does wine production lead to increased biodiversity? It is because vineyards cultivated with human help are the ideal grassland habitat to nurture a variety of living creatures.

When we hear the word “nature,” many of us imagine virgin, unspoiled wilderness. In addition to this untouched wilderness, there is also “secondary nature,” which accounts for approximately 80% of land in Japan. This consists of rice paddies and farm fields, parks and other accessible forms of nature that people play some role in creating. And, they are highly biodiverse. Grasslands managed with livestock grazing, controlled burning, and other methods of maintenance are also considered secondary nature. However, due to population decline and a decrease in the number of farmers, much of this secondary nature has turned into idle wastelands in recent years. Without human influence, plants that once occupied these spaces are overpowered by tenacious weeds, and biodiversity diminishes as a result.

By converting these spaces into vineyards, paths are created with grapevines planted in rows using the hedge method of cultivation. The space between the grapevines constitutes the ideal grassland (grass-covered land with no tall trees); this becomes inhabited by a variety of plants and animals. Mowing, which is essential to grassland health, is carried out on a regular basis in the vineyards, so no additional maintenance is necessary. The tasks involved with managing a vineyard actually contribute to more robust biodiversity.

Hedgerow method of cultivation
(Photo by Miho Soga)

Surveys by Kirin Holdings highlight the benefits of grape production

Survey results have also demonstrated how growing grapes bolsters biodiversity. Kirin Holdings Co., Ltd. has been turning derelict land into vineyards and conducting ecological surveys on the company’s Château Mercian Mariko Vineyard (Ueda City, Nagano Prefecture) since 2014 with assistance from Japan’s National Agriculture and Food Research Organization (NARO). In the survey results, 168 insect species and 288 plant species were identified — among them were endangered species listed in the Red Data Book of Japan’s Ministry of the Environment.

Through the expansion of their business, Kirin Holdings aims for a nature positive management model that promotes ecosystem recovery and development. Similar surveys are underway at other vineyards. This year, the company was also the first in the world to disclose information based on a pilot test of the beta framework of the TNFD (Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures), an international initiative to bring visibility to how business impacts nature and addresses biodiversity. This innovative initiative is turning heads, and Kirin Holdings was able to achieve this milestone thanks to their ongoing research and environmental conservation activities, which are integrated into their business.

Winery in Toyama seeks to turn idle land into an ecovillage

(Photo by Miho Soga)

Smaller businesses are also joining in the effort. TresBeau Co., Ltd. operates Domaine Beau (in Japanese), a winery built in the hills of Nanto City, Toyama Prefecture, where depopulation has led to an increase of abandoned fields. The company embraces a theme of giving back to the community — when I visited in June 2022, I learned that there are plans to create an ecovillage with spaces for eating, drinking and farming experiences — all of which ties to creating jobs in the area and revitalizing the local economy.

Corporate and environmental sustainability through regenerative agriculture

Through their activities to restore and revitalize lands, in a sense, Kirin Holdings and TresBeau are also engaging in regenerative agriculture, which is designed to restore the natural environment. When companies apply this line of thinking to primary industries, they can enrich the natural environment through their business operations. This also increases the resilience of the land and its ability to recover from disasters exacerbated by the climate crisis. Cultivating rich biodiversity is also associated with climate change adaptation strategies.

Going forward, it will be increasingly important to approach the climate crisis and biodiversity not as independent issues, but as two sides of the same coin.

Miho Soga (author), translation by Melody Poland