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The wine entrepreneurs helping remove plastic from our oceans

25 April 2024 • Written by Lucy Dunn

The wine at Ocean Talks 2024 is courtesy of The Hidden Sea, an award-winning, vegan-friendly wine that packs some serious punch when it comes to cleaning up our oceans. Ahead of the event, co-founder Justin Moran talks to BOAT about how the company came about.

Was there a particular moment that sparked the idea for The Hidden Sea?

I distinctly recall the moment. While swimming off the shores of an island in Phu Quoc in Vietnam, I was confronted with the devastating reality of plastic pollution. The once-pristine waters were marred by litter and debris, a heartbreaking sight that deeply moved me.

It was in that moment of witnessing the tragedy of plastic pollution firsthand that the vision for The Hidden Sea was born. Determined to make a positive impact, I was inspired to create a brand that would not only celebrate the beauty of the ocean but also actively work towards its preservation. Thus, The Hidden Sea was founded with a mission to craft exceptional wines while championing environmental stewardship and inspiring others to join us in protecting our planet's oceans. I have a simple philosophy: if you have the ability, you have the responsibility.

Did you already have any experience in the wine industry before this moment?

No, I didn't. But my co-founder, Richie Vandenberg, comes from a fourth-generation grape-growing background. However, we all had prior experience in wine production, sales, and running a winery or brand.

For every bottle of The Hidden Sea sold, you promise that 10 plastic bottles will be removed and recycled from the ocean. How do you go about fulfilling this?

We have a global Ocean health partner called the ReSea Project, which helps us deliver on this promise. ReSea Project is independently validated and verified via a third party, DNV, an independent auditor setting industry standards and best practices for the sustainable removal and cleanup of plastic from the Ocean. ReSea Project is only the second organisation in the world to be certified to the highest standards.

ReSea Project in action

Which areas in the world are you focussing on removing plastic and why?

We have chosen to focus on removing plastic pollution primarily in Indonesia and the Philippines due to the significant environmental challenges these regions face and the urgent need for action. Both countries are among the top contributors to marine plastic pollution globally, with vast coastal areas and densely populated communities exacerbating the issue. By targeting these areas, we aim to make a meaningful impact on reducing plastic waste and protecting marine ecosystems.

However, our commitment to ocean cleanup extends beyond these regions. We have organised ocean cleanup events in all seven seas and undertaken initiatives in various parts of the world. For example, one notable project involved creating a three-storey plastic pyramid next to the pyramids in Egypt’s Cairo to raise awareness. Our goal is to address plastic pollution on a global scale and inspire collective action to safeguard the health of our oceans for future generations.

How much plastic have you removed so far?

In excess of 26 million single-use plastic water bottles.

What happens to all your plastic?

All of the plastic we collect is either repurposed or recycled. We prioritise sustainable solutions for plastic waste, ensuring that it is diverted from landfills and instead used in productive ways or transformed into new materials through recycling processes.

What is the inspiration for the name "The Hidden Sea"?

The Limestone Coast, where our vineyards lie, was once covered by a vast ocean home to a thriving marine ecosystem. Ancient mineralised relics, including an extraordinary 26 million-year-old whale fossil and an extensive museum of marine life, now lie buried beneath the alluvial soils of this World Heritage wine region, some 100km inland from the current coastline... better known as Coonawarra and Wrattonbully.

Your wine is "vegan friendly", what does that mean?

"Vegan friendly" means that our wines contain zero animal products and are certified vegan, ensuring they align with ethical and dietary preferences. In addition to being vegan, our wines are also climate-friendly through various initiatives. For example, our commitment to sustainability is reinforced by our certification by Climate Active and the Sustainable Winegrowers Association of Australia. From lighter glass bottles to using cork instead of plastic stoppers, we prioritise environmentally conscious practices throughout our production process. Moreover, we are proud to be carbon neutral, demonstrating our dedication to minimising our carbon footprint and contributing to a healthier planet.

Any awards you have won that you are proud of?

We have received multiple wine quality awards and scores above 90 points from around the world, including 2024 UK People's Choice Drinks Awards Bargain Buys (Whites Under £10) – GOLD winner: The Hidden Sea Sauvignon Blanc; 2024 UK People's Choice Drinks Awards Fire up the BBQ (Whites) – GOLD winner: The Hidden Sea Chardonnay; and 2023 Winner of the Global Drinks intel ESG awards: The Hidden Sea.

Tell me about the QR code on the bottle - what is it for?

On 1 July 2020, we committed to a goal to remove one billion plastic bottles from the world's oceans by 2030. You can track our progress through each bottle's unique QR code, which provides information on where the plastic was collected and its subsequent destination. 

Where can you buy The Hidden Sea in the UK?

You can buy The Hidden Sea in Sainsbury’s, Co-op, Booths and Ocado.

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