In autumn the Penedès vineyards shine a toasted ocher. The stillness takes over the fields, while inside the wineries there is a bustle to dispatch late orders from the Christmas season. It is the last arreón of a season that will close with positive balance. After the pandemic hit of 2020, a drop in business of almost 30%, the winemakers of the Denomination of Origin (DO) Penedès breathe because this year they have returned to the path of 2019. The acceleration of the restoration and recovery of exports catapult sales to 18 million bottles. An economic boost that comes at a key moment for producers, immersed in the process of restructuring to make Penedès the first 100% organic Spanish wine DO. The calendar haunts, because the goal is set for 2025. But there is no possible hesitation. “We have to treat nature better and help mitigate climate change,” says Joan Huguet, president of the regulatory council.
Familia Torres is one of the historic companies of the Penedès. He accumulates a 150-year legacy making wine and brandy, and has led the business for five generations. The concern for working the vineyards while ensuring the environmental footprint has been expressed for a long time by Miguel A. Torres. “If we do not drastically lower emissions, it will be impossible to prevent temperatures from overheating above two degrees at the end of this century,” he warns. It would be a curse for viticulture: it disrupts the yield, alters the maturation cycle and forces to look for farms in higher latitudes to avoid the impact of the calories.
From his office in Pacs del Penedès, the president of Torres looks at the exclusive plots where the Cabernet Sauvignon grows, which will give life to the house’s highest range red wine, Mas la Plana. The postcard seems durable, but the owner warns about the threatening effect that the impact of polluting gases has on the natural environment: “The problem is very serious, we are exposed to terrible consequences and, despite this, there is a brutal ignorance”.
According to a report by the Ministry for the Ecological Transition, agriculture was the source last year of 14.1% of greenhouse gas emissions in Spain. The measured records showed a 1.2% increase in these emissions, compared to 2019. Transportation and industry cause 27.7% and 21.4% of gases, respectively. Miguel A. Torres (the vowel of the compound name helps him to differentiate himself from his son, Miguel Torres Maczassek) has just turned 80 and maintains an intense work activity. More than a commitment to sustainability, he senses an obsession with environmental conflict. “For us it is a priority, because we want our children and grandchildren to be able to continue in the business in the future. Hopefully this priority is made possible at all levels ”.
A man of conciliatory speech, he understands that the current situation of economic uncertainty has put many businesses in trouble, and that readjusting work practices to minimize environmental impact is an added headache. However, it does not share the complaints of a part of the sector, which raises the cry every time a wind farm is projected near a vineyard. “The cultivation of vineyards is compatible with windmills and photovoltaic panels,” he says.
The executive of popular brands such as Sangre de Toro, Viña Sol or Coronas is one of the 22 directors of International Wineries for Climate Action, an international association of wineries committed to reducing emissions and working to improve soil management.
Know in depth all the sides of the coin.
The businessman reveals that Al Gore’s documentary, An uncomfortable truthIt caused him a profound impact and he decided to promote a paradigm shift in the wine industry. Familia Torres is a founding member of the Regenerative Viticulture Association, an initiative that seeks to revolutionize the management of vineyards in Spain to fight against climate change and at the same time regenerate soils, stop erosion and promote biodiversity.
Behind this association there are five wineries and family businesses from different territories, all of them committed to sustainability and the preservation of the planet: Torres, Clos Mogador, Can Feixes, Jean Leon and the agricultural consultancy AgroAssessor. His intention is to join his cause with other viticulturists, winemakers, trainers, researchers or companies to expand this agricultural model based on restoring the carbon cycle altered by human activity.
Miguel Torres Maczassek assumes the weight of the family saga in the initiative. “We must put aside certain fears and cultural learnings and be encouraged to embark on the path towards regenerative viticulture to turn vineyards into large carbon sinks, since this is the only viticultural model that makes sense in the current context,” he says. Together with his sister Mireia, he ensures the continuity of the Torres legacy.
Regenerative viticulture is a model focused on recovering life in soils because, the more alive the land is, the more capacity it has to capture atmospheric CO2 and the more it contributes to slowing the rise in temperatures. In turn, the accumulation of organic carbon in the soil of vineyards will help improve the health of the fields, increase their resilience to erosion and their ability to cope with drought, since they will retain water better, and favor the biodiversity.
A plan that absorbs 11% of the benefits
The Torres group finances its bet on green with 11% of its profits. “Last year the investment froze, because we did not have it”, illustrates the president. The group has more than 1,300 hectares of its own vineyards and is present in more than 150 countries. In 2019, before the stoppage due to the virus, exports accounted for more than 60% of the business. The turnover of then, 257 million euros, contracted last year to 212 million. The group has a staff of 1,300 workers.