Diana Snowden Seysses on Staying Optimistic: “I’m Ruthless with My Energy”

A Conversation on Sustainability with the Enologist of Domaine Dujac, and a Preview of Our Next Virtual Class

Conversation on Sustainability with Diana Snowden Seysses ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle
6 min read

Among life’s greatest pleasures is the simple act of pouring a glass of wine and relaxing. However, for that wine to reach your lips, it has to undergo an extensive journey from vineyard to winery to bottling-line to shipment. And every step along that journey is impacted by climate change.

Hail, frost, heatwaves and fire often grab the headlines when it comes to wine and climate change. It is a miserable narrative with frightening frequency. But make no mistake about it, the wine industry contributes to climate change, too. From carbon emissions in the vineyard and winery to glass packaging and its fuel-intensive transit, that sip of wine you use to relax … sorry, but it comes at a cost.

So what is a wine lover to do? Know this: many in the wine industry are actively leading the way to a more sustainable future, and their efforts are forging new opportunities across the entire agricultural sector. Get to know what they are doing, and actively support them. And if you are in a position of influence, find a way to spread the message.

Our Next Wine Class: Lageder, Gravner, Salicutti and Dujac

On February 4 at 8pm EST, I will be sharing detailed stories on Zoom about how four exceptional producers have adapted their winery operations to stay in business for longer.

One of these wineries is the highly regarded Domaine Dujac, whose prized Burgundy wines have not only been among the most sought-after in collectors’ markets — they’ve cultivated a pop-culture awareness thanks to hip-hop artists like Jay-Z and DJ Khaled.

Despite all of that buzz, the Seysses family is down-to-earth yet simultaneously relentless in running an operation dedicated to meticulous quality and the highest environmental ethics. It would have felt like a major omission to assemble this class without profiling many of Domaine Dujac’s forward-thinking, industry-leading practices on sustainability.

Domaine Dujac first caught my attention on this topic a few years ago when the winery’s American-born enologist — Diana Snowden Seysses — wrote an article for SevenFifty Daily provocatively titled Carbon Capture During Fermentation Could Make Wine a Negative-Emission Industry. I was not only struck by the ambition behind her idea, but the tenacity she was showing in trying to find a way to implement it.

I have not had the good fortune of visiting Domaine Dujac, but our past contributor, Ashley Hausman MW, interned there in 2019, an experience she shared a few years ago here on Opening a Bottle. Through my contacts, I was able to arrange an interview with Snowden Seysses to inform their portion of this virtual wine class. An abridged version of our conversation is below — a teaser for the seminar. After the class I’ll update this page with the full transcript, which you will want to be sure to read.

New winery facility at Domaine Dujac. ©Domaine Dujac
New winery facility at Domaine Dujac uses local building materials and innovative, sustainable insulation. Learn more about it in our forthcoming wine class. ©Domaine Dujac

Interview Excerpt with Diana Snowden Seysses

Kevin Day: What aspect of climate change keeps you up at night, and what aspect of the fight makes you optimistic?

Diana Snowden Seysses: It has been a process. There have been different phases. Climate change has always been on my radar, but I became rather obsessed with it after the 2017 fires [in Napa and Sonoma]. And really, it was after that first heatwave over Labor Day weekend in Napa …

As an enologist, my job is to do research. Jacques [Seysses] has always wanted to do trials. So I get to spend a lot of creative time thinking about how we might toy with things, how we might move our quality forward. I just started spending all of that time applying myself towards catching up on exactly where we are with regards to climate change.

“But what brings me hope is changing our mode of living and how we are becoming, collectively, more and more aware of the concept of sustainability.”

Diana Snowden Seysses
Enologist, Domaine Dujac

There are times when one piece of data would send me to bed and I couldn’t cope with the world until I digested it. There were periods that were really, really tough. Everyone needs to digest the information to get out of denial, to understand thoroughly the current situation we are in. At this stage [sighs], I have kind of figured out how to live with it. I continue to read the International Panel on Climate Change reports — which come out several times a year — and statistically speaking, we know where we are going. Somehow, it is not keeping me up at night anymore. I have just accepted all kinds of dread and I’ve accepting loss. And I am trying my best to stay present to the moment. Really, I don’t feel shocked when atmospheric rivers come. I know that there is a 30% chance every year in California that there will be rainstorms that create floods like this. Ironically, California is a place that is both flood-prone and drought-prone. We are going to find ourselves in a drought situation in very little time because most of it is falling in low-lying areas and most of it is going to end up in the ocean. I know this is going to happen. There is no point in losing sleep over it.

But what brings me hope is changing our mode of living and how we are becoming, collectively, more and more aware of the concept of sustainability. And we are moving on an individual level, too. You know, Putin’s war in Ukraine has a silver lining, in that since it started, governments have really stepped up their green energy investment. We’ve collectively made so much progress in the last two years in terms of investment in green energy. That’s what moves me forward. No single event is purely bad or purely good. But collectively, we are all moving towards a goal that is actually sustainable. I see that happening, and it brings me a lot of hope.

Kevin Day: That’s a great message for those of us who — despite caring deeply about this — are feeling a bit numb to the overwhelming negative news around climate change because, well … it seems so easy to let hopelessness create a cycle of inactivity, right?

Diana Snowden Seysses: Yes, and it is just not useful. I think the way I’ve learned to cope with what we’ve already started facing is to just be — well, I’m ruthless with my energy. When I catch myself in a cycle of worry, I have to tell myself to deal with whatever’s in my sphere of control, because the energy is so precious. Sometimes I’m better at it, sometimes I am less good at it, but you know, that’s how I have to face it.

Red Corkscrew Illustration ©Opening a Bottle

Join Us on February 4

From How to Identify Wine Flaws to a Deep Dive on Sicilian Wine, our Virtual Wine Class Series has built a passionate following from a community of wine lovers.

Our next class, Why Sustainability Matters Most in Wine Right Now, will take this community to Italy and France for an in-depth and inspiring look at large and small tactics wineries are using to be more sustainable. We’ll go to the vineyards of Alto Adige with Alois Lageder, Friuli-Venezia Giulia with Gravner, Brunello di Montalcino with Salicutti and the Côte d’Or with Domaine Dujac. Each profile will show you how some of the world’s most acclaimed wineries are embracing biodiversity, new vine-training methods, experimentation in the cellar, recycled building materials, and employee-friendly policies to build a more sustainable future for their business. A Q-and-A session with our host, Editor-in-Chief Kevin Day, will be included.

To attend, subscribe to Opening a Bottle for just $5/month. You’ll be able to join future wine education classes on Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Chablis, unlock hundreds of wine reviews written with the care attention the wines deserve, and support independent wine writing.

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