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Case Study: How Emiliana Organic Vineyards is Adapting to Climate Change


Climate change is threatening grape production in Chile. Learn 10 tips for climate adaptation and how one company is building resilience.

In 2013, Emiliana Organic Vineyards started experiencing more extreme weather events, starting with a frost that wiped out 30% of the grapes in one of the vineyards. Looking forward, Emiliana is projecting water shortages severe enough to permanently reduce grape output in several of their vineyards.

Climate change isn’t a thing of the future. It’s happening now. And if your business doesn’t plan for it, you’ll find yourself blindsided.

Emiliana is a wine producer in Chile. The company is a poster child for corporate sustainability. It holds 15 sustainability certifications, including organic and biodynamic agriculture, and fair trade. But that hasn’t stopped Emiliana from being extremely vulnerable to climate change.

If you think climate change won’t impact your business because you’re not in agriculture, think again. The same heat that dries up a vineyard also turns industrial shipping channels into dry riverbeds, and causes workers to overheat.

But if you know these issues are coming, you can plan for them. You can reduce their impact on your employees, revenue, and community. Proactively changing your business to reduce climate change’s negative impact is called adaptation – and that’s exactly what Emiliana is doing.

Sebastián Tramon is Emiliana’s Head of Sustainability. Sebastián has one of Emiliana’s most fun jobs, but also one of the most complex. He’s responsible for supervising the company’s many sustainability certifications. He also oversees new projects to improve social responsibility and environmental impact.

In this article, Tramon shares the ways in which climate change is impacting Emiliana, and how the company is responding. His insights will be useful for business leaders in any sector.

A Short Primer on Climate Risk and Adaptation

Before diving into Emiliana’s story, let’s start with 10 evidence-based tips that can guide effective and fair adaptation (based on our recent adaptation primer). You’ll see that Emiliana puts many of these tips into practice!

These tips will help your company get the most benefit from your adaptation efforts, and ensure you are engaging with the right people in the process.

10 tips for corporate climate change adaptation

Every business’s specific climate change strategy will – and should! – be a little different. Read on to learn a) how Emiliana is experiencing climate challenges and b) how the company is adapting. No matter which sector you’re in, you’ll find inspiration for your own work.

Climate Change Risks Faced by Emiliana

Drinking wine is easy. Making it is more difficult.  Grapes need enough water and specific weather patterns. If you’re a sustainability-oriented company like Emiliana, you also care about your employees and community. Climate change is affecting all of these.

Water scarcity reduces output

Water scarcity is Emiliana’s biggest climate risk, particularly the drop in groundwater supply. “In some areas, we rely solely on underground water,” says Tramon, “And the water table is already dropping.”

Each winter in Chile, snow accumulates in the mountains. Then, during the spring thaw, the runoff fills the rivers and recharges the groundwater. In recent years, this cycle has been changing. Less snow is falling in the mountains, which means less runoff in the spring. As a result, the river and groundwater volumes aren’t enough to meet Emiliana’s irrigation needs. (Or the needs of the local community, who rely on the same water supply.)

Climate change is a strange beast, though, Tramon points out. Its impacts aren’t uniform. This year, for example, the vineyard is experiencing extremely heavy rainfall and flooding, which are damaging fields and worker housing in ways the company hasn’t experienced before.

Product consistency is affected by heat waves — and frost

The warmer weather is changing the grape maturity process. The extra heat causes sugar concentration in the grapes to rise more quickly, but the other compounds in the grapes can’t keep up. As a result, grapes are being harvested earlier, but the winemaker must do extra work in the cellar to ensure consistent wine flavour. This increases labour costs.

Remember how climate change is a strange beast? The unpredictability applies to temperature, too. Emiliana is experiencing generally warmer weather, but they are also seeing more frost snaps. In 2013, a single frost event destroyed 30% of the grapes in one of Emiliana’s vineyards. In recent years, the company has lost an average of 10% of its annual grape production to frost events.

Fire threatens people and place

Chile’s naturally occurring seasonal forest fires are becoming larger and more dangerous. That’s partly because of a warming climate, but also because Chile has been replacing native forests with plantations of pine and eucalyptus for pulp and paper. The plantations burn more readily than native forests. These forest fires pose a risk to Emiliana’s vineyards and employees.

Conflict can be sparked by water scarcity

Emiliana shares the water supply with other farms and local residents. In the past, the residents have experienced water shortages, and Emiliana has provided them with water from the supply on Emiliana’s land. “In the future, there could be potential conflict between local people and the agricultural sector,” says Tramon. “We need to be thoughtful about how we can ensure everyone’s needs are met, and avoid that conflict.”

6 Climate Change Adaptation Strategies from Emiliana

Emiliana is working to counter these challenges. The graphic shows six adaptation priorities at Emiliana, as the company addresses changing temperatures, water availability, and social tension.

6 climate change adaptation strategies

Here’s what this looks like in detail.

1. Nature-based solutions

Emiliana already had a head start on climate change adaptation. Since 1998, the company has been certified organic; more recently, they were certified as biodynamic and regenerative organic. That means workers manage the farms as an ecosystem, tending to the health of all parts, including good soil health and local biodiversity.

The nature-based practices are a protective buffer from heat, drought, and floods. For example, the soil between the rows of grapes is covered by diverse ground vegetation. This improves the soil’s capacity to hold water, reduces soil evaporation during heat spells, and prevents erosion during heavy rainfall. It also creates firmer soil, so workers can get into the fields quickly after rainfall.

The natural shade provided by the vine leaves can also protect the grapes. During periods of intense heat, Emiliana workers leave more leaves on the plants to offer the grapes more protective shade and cooling.

The bonus? Emiliana’s approach to agriculture also creates less carbon emissions than conventional agriculture. The company doesn’t use carbon-intensive chemical inputs, and its soil management practices help soil sequester more carbon.

“There are ways to reduce climate risk while simultaneously creating a stronger, more resilient natural ecosystem,” says Tramon.

2. Technical solutions

“You have to ask, ‘which solutions can be nature-based and which cannot?’” says Tramon. Technology is a way to complement natural approaches.

Frost towers: Emiliana has installed frost towers. Each tower has a fan at the top, which points down towards the field. Because cold air is heavier than warm air, the coldest air naturally settles around the vines. The fans push warmer air from above, down to displace the colder air. This prevents frost from forming.

Reservoirs: On one of the vineyards, Emiliana recently built a water reservoir large enough to hold 2-3 weeks of irrigation water. (That’s the maximum legal reservoir size, to prevent anyone from monopolizing the shared water supply.) Rainfall runs from the fields into the reservoir, creating a backup water source when river and groundwater run low.

Weather and moisture monitors: Emiliana has also started installing weather stations and soil moisture probes in the vineyards. The weather stations allow the company to collect real-time data on temperature, humidity, and wind. These data help Emiliana understand how much water the vines need, so workers don’t overwater. (Plants need more water on hot, dry, windy days.)

The soil probes monitor water concentration at various soil depths. “Because of the water scarcity, we have to be very careful about when we add water, how much water we add, and what that water is doing in the soil profile,” says Tramon.

3. Relocating production

Even effective water management practices won’t protect Emiliana completely. Climate models predict that within five years, Emiliana will experience water shortages severe enough to reduce grape output. As a result, the company is exploring opportunities to develop vineyards in regions where the water risk is lower.

4. Collaboration

Systems problems, like climate change, can’t be tackled alone. Emiliana has partnered at multiple levels to find solutions that benefit everyone.

Emiliana understands that its success is connected to the local community’s wellbeing. If there’s not enough water to go around, there will be conflict – and that will hurt everyone. Accordingly, Emiliana has been helping local residents to improve their water table monitoring. This will allow residents to respond more proactively to shortages.

Emiliana has also partnered with Chile’s National Forest Service to deliver forest fire education. Workers have learned what to do in case of a fire in the vineyard or the surrounding forest. That includes knowing where helicopters can find water and how to escape safely.

5. Senior leadership involvement

“Our sustainability department used to be in charge of dealing with climate change,” says Tramon. “But it’s now our board of directors who oversees our climate strategy.”

That’s a critical shift. It ensures the company’s senior decision-makers understand the climate risks. It also makes it more likely that the board will support the large financial investments required for adaptation. Emiliana’s new reservoir, for example, cost USD $120,000. An investment of that size would be hard to justify if the board wasn’t intimately aware of the need.

6. Start small and iterate

Climate change adaptation can look complex when you look at someone else’s established initiatives. (Arguably, adaptation is complex!) But Tramon advises that companies start with small steps and quick wins.

Even now, Emiliana is still iterating. For example, it recently installed soil moisture probes, but that leap has required new capabilities. Emiliana must now hire people who understand the technology and develop systems to manage, analyze, and use the data being generated.

Linking Emiliana’s Approach to Climate Adaptation Best Practices

Emiliana has six specific strategic priorities. These also align with the evidence-based tips for adaptation described at the beginning of the article. Here’s that overall guidance again, and how Emiliana’s actions fit. 

10 tips for corporate climate change adaptation

Don’t wait. Emiliana is not taking a ‘wait and see’ approach. The company is trying to understand how climate change will impact the business, and make changes now to become more resilient.

Build adaption into existing business processes. Emiliana’s board of directors oversees the company’s climate change risk analysis and adaptation strategy. Its adaptation efforts build on its long history of organic and biodynamic agriculture.

Think bigger (longer timeline, more stakeholders). Support those disadvantaged by changes. Emiliana isn’t just planning for next quarter, or next year. They are assessing and planning for risks 5+ years into the future. They are also considering and supporting the needs of local residents.

Collaborate outside your firm. Emiliana is working with the government and its local community to find solutions for shared challenges.

Expect uncertainty and explore multiple options. Emiliana is experimenting with technologies for a range of changing conditions – from heat, to frost and from floods, to droughts.

Include mitigation (emissions reduction) in your adaptation strategy. Emiliana doesn’t use energy-intensive agrochemicals, and its healthy soils sequester more carbon than the soil of industrial farms. These strategies reduce climate risk for everyone.

Report on your adaptation efforts. Emiliana reports annually on its adaptation efforts, as part of its integrated report.

Emiliana Organic Vineyards is internationally known for its wine. Its adaptation efforts also offer global lessons. 

Find Out More

More about Emiliana Organic Vineyards:

Additional NBS resources:

Why We Wrote This Article

NBS surveyed readers in January 2023 to ask about their priority business sustainability topics. People wanted to know how to become resilient in the face of climate change (via adaptation), recognizing that the specifics depend on one’s location and activities.

To address this issue, NBS is writing a series of case studies. We started with Emiliana and its sustainability lead Sebastian Tramon, who is also a member of NBS’s Content Committee. Contact us at info@nbs.net if you’d like to share your company’s adaptation activities.

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  • Chelsea Hicks-Webster

    Hi, I’m Chelsea. I have a Masters degree in Sustainability, where I studied ecosystem health. I'm also a Certified Life Coach. I used to be the Operations Manager for NBS, but now I just focus on my favourite part of that job – the writing! I also run a social enterprise, called Creating Me, dedicated to strengthening maternal and family well-being. I know first-hand how difficult it can be to balance career goals, impact, and one’s own well-being. When I’m not working on my own impact goals, I offer executive coaching and writing support to help researchers and change-makers grow their impact and well-being. (creatingme.ca/sustainability).

  • Sebastián Tramon

    Sebastián, alias “Capitan Planet”, has one of the most fun jobs, but also the most complex, at Emiliana. On the one hand, he’s responsible for sustainability at Emiliana, supervising our organic and biodynamic certifications. He also oversees our corporate social responsibility, fair trade, environmental projects while also spearheading any investigative initiatives.

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