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Wine Future 2021: Virtual conference addresses key issues from Covid to climate

Top speakers from across the wine world have helped to lead discussions of major issues facing the industry at an international online conference.

Challenges posed by climate change, the Covid pandemic and also new Brexit rules were among topics discussed at the Wine Future 2021 international virtual conference in late February.

Over four days, more than 90 speakers and 1,000 delegates from 68 countries joined the Wine Future 2021 event via Zoom.

As organiser Pancho Campo noted, virtual conferences may be less fun than physical events, but have real advantages – not least the negligible climate impact of bringing people together from different continents online.

Speakers included numerous leading producers, such as: Margareth Henriquez, CEO of Champagne Krug, Eduardo Chadwick, president of Viña Errázuriz, Jean-Charles Boisset, owner of wineries in California and France, and Argentina’s Dr Laura Catena, fourth generation winemaker at Catena Zapata winery.

The event also included wine consultants, scientists and health specialists, plus researchers and experts in marketing, packaging and transportation.

As Hollywood director and California wine producer Francis Ford Coppola noted in his opening speech, we have all felt like ‘prisoners of the pandemic’ over the past year.

Many speakers were struck nonetheless by how quickly wine producers and drinkers had adapted to a more online world.

The ‘explosion of wine ecommerce’, which looks here to stay, has made it essential for wine businesses to transform their approach, especially in terms of engaging with digital audiences.

Wine commentator Robert Joseph chaired a thought-provoking exchange on how disruptive events are testing the wine world, from the Covid pandemic to wildfires in California and Australia, drought in South Africa and Brexit barriers.

Health experts discussed the impact of Covid-19 on sommeliers and wine buyers who have lost their sense of smell or taste from the virus.

The climate crisis was a major theme of the conference.

Numerous speakers, including wine climatologist Dr. Greg Jones, highlighted the need for pressing action across the spectrum.

Topics ranged from more sustainable vine-growing practices and carbon capture in wineries to the innovation and marketing challenges of switching to less carbon-intensive forms of wine packaging; for instance, exchanging glass bottles for cans, bag-in-box or tubes.

The event also discussed new patterns of consumption among younger wine consumers, reversing discrimination in the wine industry, and ways to organise wine tourism, exhibitions and tastings in the age of Covid-19.

In addition to Coppola, a number of well-known figures from the world of film, sport and music provided entertainment at the event, including: actor Matthew Goode, star of The Crown and Downtown Abbey; musician Dave Phoenix Farrell, bassist of Linkin Park; former world number one golfer Ernie Els; and former captain of the South African rugby national team John Smit.

Wine Future 2021 will be followed by a series of further virtual events, including Green WineFuture and Wine Future 2022, to be held in March next year.

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