July 22, 2022
In the French wine world, change is often met with resistance. After all, the French have perfected the art of winemaking — and why would you mess with perfection? But while French wine is often considered the best in the world, the historic industry has not progressed much when it comes to sustainability efforts, from the wasteful bottling and packaging to the reluctance many winemakers feel about shifting to organic farming practices.
Mickaël Alborghetti, CEO and co-founder of EthicDrinks, grew up in a French wine family. His maternal grandparents owned vineyards in Burgundy, one of the most well-known wine regions in the world, and his father was a well-known environmentalist. When he came of age, Alborghetti became an engineer in agriculture selling and making wine for a larger wine company, and he quickly began exploring ways to shift the company toward organic agriculture practices. “I was trying to change things, but it’s very hard to change an old wine company to a green company,” he remembers.
A trip to Bali became the catalyst for Alborghetti to start a wine brand of his own. While scuba diving, he became overwhelmingly aware of the amount of plastic on the beaches and in the oceans, and he decided at that moment to quit his job and do something that would make a difference in the often stagnant world of wine. “They’ve been making wine for 2,000 years, so the less they change, the better they feel,” he remembers. “I thought, ‘Let’s start from scratch and do something that’s going to drive the world of wine to be greener.’”
In 2019, Alborghetti launched EthicDrinks with his wife, Camille. The brand combines the historic winemaking practices Alborghetti grew up with and the breadth of environmental and sustainability knowledge he picked up over the years. The wines themselves are blends and single-varietals that respect the environment, and the packaging materials are all recycled, recyclable, and carbon neutral.
”The big part is in the vineyards,” Alborghetti explains when asked about the difference between their organic process and the traditional winemaking process. Specifically, it comes down to what you don’t use that matters the most — things like chemical pesticides. “In the vineyards, you’re really limited with what you can use. What you don’t put in the vineyards doesn’t end up in the wine, so it’s much better.”
Alborghetti is quick to acknowledge that while organic farming practices are incredibly important, simply cleaning up the wine itself is only the first step; you have to take it “from the vineyard to the bottle”, he says. “For me, the wine was very important because it’s the first step, but we did some studies on the impact of wine on the world, and the logistics had a huge impact,” Alborghetti says. “So we worked on the packaging, on the bottle, everything we could change.”
They started with one very small but meaningful change: they removed the capsule, or the shrink-wrapped protective plastic sleeve that goes over the cork, from all of their wine bottles. “This is made of plastic, but no one in France removed it before because it’s very traditional, it’s a part of French winemaking,” Alborghetti remembers. “But we were like, Come on, this is just a piece of plastic that is useless, so we removed it — and we saved almost 2 tons of plastic.”
Alborghetti traced the process of packaging EthicDrinks’ wines throughout the facilities, noting areas where they could make things more sustainable or minimize the amount of packaging used. They decided on using only organic corks, and in lieu of the traditional clear glass bottles you typically find with white wines, they opted for brown bottles, which are made of “up to 80% recycled materials,” Alborghetti explains. “It took me 6 months,” he remembers. “I visited all the factories, all the recycling facilities, to see that all things are really recycled. We looked at everything, and things that we couldn’t recycle or change, we just decided to remove them.” In 2022, this work earned EthicDrinks an award from the French government, naming them the most environmentally conscious wine packaging in all of France.
“Our mission is to fight greenwashing [in the wine world],” Alborghetti explains. “France introduced a new status last year which is “Entreprise à Mission”, or corporation with a mission. Our core mission is not just to make revenue, it’s to make the wine world a better place. The revenue is a tool to get to that mission, it’s not the purpose of our work.”
So does organic wine taste different from traditional wine? According to Alborghetti, it may taste even better. Because organic winemakers like EthicDrinks aren’t able to add pesticides or unnatural chemicals and preservatives, they rely on thoughtful winemaking techniques to bring out the flavors of the grapes. “When we make wine, we’re looking for drinkability,” Alborghetti says. “Some wines are too much of something. We’re looking at balance, a nice acidity that gives that mouthfeel that you want to go back to, no sulfites so you don’t get much headache the next day, and the lowest amount of alcohol possible.”
While many EthicDrinks wines are single varietal, which means they only use one type of grape from one vineyard, some blend grapes from different vineyards and sites to achieve a more complex flavor. “One winery might have a strong wine with some barrel-age, but we don’t want that barrel-age in your face, so we might use 5% of that, 80% of something else, so we get the complexity from blending,” Alborghetti explains. “I do the blending with my team, so it’s like a constant consumer review — the beauty of being a small team.”
While EthicDrinks offers a wide, yet well-tailored assortment of wines, you can expect some similarities in each of their bottles. According to Alborghetti, they’re always aiming for “a lot of fruit and some complexity”. He goes on, “Some easy-drinking wines are a bit too simple, so we’re looking for drinkability, complexity, and fruit-forward flavor.”
Each EthicDrinks wine not only boasts its own subtly complex flavor notes, but it also aims to support a better future for the planet. We spoke to the EthicDrinks team to explain their wines — and their mission — in their own words.
This Chardonnay is made with grapes from the Pays D’oc region and features floral notes with hints of honey and pear. “Our land is a jewel of nature that we must protect,” the EthicDrinks team explains. “Human activities are destroying it, and taking with it our treasures of biodiversity. [With this wine] we work with the World Wildlife Fund to preserve the animals and provide them a healthy place to live.”
The perfect summer wine, this rosé is made of a blend of 60% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. “On Dirait le Sud” is a French expression that alludes to the peaceful sweetness of life that reigns in the South of France. “The weather is always fine, the sun warms hearts and people enjoy an excellent glass of fresh rosé wine while they enjoy life.”
Made with a blend of grapes from France’s famous Côtes du Rhône region, this unique white wine contains notes of fruits, florals, and minerals. According to the team, “The name Eclosion means hatching” a nod to sea turtles and other aquatic creatures in our oceans, and “an invitation to celebrate this magical moment, like a new beginning”.
“This rosé from Provence is produced near the Mediterranean Sea, the cradle of marine biodiversity. The sea and oceans are habitats for thousands of species. Each part of the chain is important and if we destroy one, the balance is broken. Source de Vie is a tribute to biodiversity, the essence of our planet and humanity.” Flavor notes include raspberry, sour cherry, and cranberry, and this rosé pairs well with light seafoods and salads.
This Sauvignon Blanc is a part of the brand’s Planète Vivante wines, which work to aid the WWF and protect animal populations. Made of grapes from the Pays D’Oc region, it features tasting notes of exotic fruits, citrus, and elderflower.
“This organic wine from the Graves region in Bordeaux represents the perfect balance of the soil, rich in pebbles and sands mixed with clays. The label let us imagine the life of the soil which is fully expressed, leaving us with a wave of happiness and emotion on tasting, like a painting. This wine is ideal for a meaningful moment with family and friends.”
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