Green is the buzzword for our time. Environmental issues are front and centre as political parties push their green agenda and scientists are making us aware of the effects of global warming. The message is getting through. We’re becoming more aware of the effect our consumption is having on the environment and most people are willing to make an effort to lessen the damage being inflicted on our planet. Winemakers and consumers also have choices that can make a difference. From the vineyard to the wine glass—there is a greener way.
“Green” wine production is getting a lot of media coverage. Not to be confused with Portuguese green wine—Vinho Verde—green in this context means wine that is produced using environmentally friendly techniques and practices. There are three main thrusts in eco-friendly grape farming—organic, sustainable, and biodynamic. Let’s take a brief look at each of these and see how they achieve their purpose.
Organic Farming consists of growers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations.
Sustainable Farming is a method of farming that refers to the ability of a farm to produce a given commodity—in our case wine grapes—indefinitely, without causing severe or irreversible damage to the health of the ecosystem.
Biodynamic Farming is a method of farming based on a spiritual world-view called anthroposophy, which was first propounded by Rudolf Steiner. This system treats farms as unified and individual organisms, emphasizing a balanced, holistic development and the interrelationship of the soil, plants and animals as a closed, self-nourishing system. Biodynamic Farming emphasizes the use of living and natural materials and the exclusion of artificial chemicals from treatments used on the soil and plants. Biodynamic Farming also has many unique production practices.
Each of these practices use different philosophies but they have the same goal—to produce eco-friendly grapes which in turn help to make more environmentally friendly wine. This is good news and to be commended but the reality is that grape farming and the winemaking process itself produces only small amounts of greenhouse gas. Grapes, unlike other crops, don’t require large amounts of fertilizer and with the move to eco-farming, the use of chemical fertilizers is being eliminated altogether. We also have to consider the carbon dioxide released from the fermentation of wine grapes. However this makes up an insignificant percentage of the total emissions associated with wine production. It should be noted that grapevines absorb carbon dioxide which practically neutralizes emissions from fermentation.
So what is the biggest contributor to wine’s carbon footprint? Trains, planes and shipping containers. Transportation involved in the production of wine is the main source of greenhouse gas emissions. It’s no wonder then that crafting wine at home or at a local U-Vint is hands-down the most environmentally friendly way to consume wine. Let’s explore this a little further.
Can you imagine the carbon footprint of that bottle of Australian wine sitting on your local wine store shelf? A typical bottle of Australian wine is trucked from the winery to port and loaded on a container ship where it begins a Pacific journey of about 35 days to a North American port. The wine is then loaded on a truck or train and shipped to a distribution centre where it is finally sent to retail locations. It has been estimated that the total carbon emissions for production and delivery of one 750 ml bottle of wine shipped in this manner is approximately 3.5 kilograms. Transportation is responsible for 2.2 kilograms of this total emission. These estimates are based on transportation by ground and water. If the wine is shipped by air these emission numbers soar. Of course wine producers are sensitive to this and are always looking for ways to cut emissions. Some are packaging their wine in lighter containers such as tetra, aluminium or plastic while other winemakers are shipping their product in bulk and bottling it closer to their intended market. However, as I wrote earlier, when it comes to eco-friendly wine nothing compares to that which you make yourself. Here are few examples why you make the “greenest” wine.
- Juice used in the production of wine kits is shipped to the manufacturer in large bulk containers instead of individual heavy glass bottles thus greatly reducing carbon emissions.
- The juice is then processed and shipped to the consumer in lightweight plastic bags and cardboard boxes.
- The majority of wine kits are shipped concentrated and the winemaker has to add water to make up the correct volume. Water is heavy. Therefore reducing the amount of water contained in a wine kit reduces carbon emissions significantly.
- Craft winemakers reuse their bottles. I have some bottles that I’ve had in circulation for 20 years or more!
- The energy required to transport wine from the liquor store to your home is something that is often overlooked. It’s possible that you would need to make up to 30 trips to the wine store to consume the same amount of wine that you would make from one wine kit.
These are some of the reasons why your home-crafted wine is infinitely more green than any commercial product. I’m sure you could add many more examples to this list and let’s not forget the other green benefits of making your own wine. Corks can be reused for crafts. Spent oak can be used as smoke chips for barbecuing. Plastic inner bags can be used for ice packs. Most components of wine kits are also completely recyclable including the cardboard box and plastic inner bag.
If you make your own wine you can enjoy drinking it with a clear conscience knowing you’re doing your part for the environment. I’m sure you would prefer to drink your own eco-friendly wine at all times but there are occasions when we have to make a run to the wine store. Nevertheless we can still make greener choices. Here are some steps you can take.
- Buy local. Locally produced wines require less shipping and transportation than imported wines. Buying local wines means helping your local community while also improving the global environment.
- Wine on Tap. Buying wine in larger format bag-in-box containers is more environmentally friendly than purchasing individual bottles. You also eliminate the need for corks and labels and the whole package is recyclable.
- Reduce spoilage and waste. As soon as wine is opened the process of oxidation begins. This can change the taste and quality of the wine if it’s not consumed soon after opening and the afflicted wine usually ends up in the drain. To prevent this you can use an inexpensive wine vacuum pump that removes oxygen from the bottle and seals it with an air-tight stopper.
- Buy organic. When possible, buy wine made from grapes that were produced using organic, sustainable or biodynamic farming methods.
The store-bought wine we swirl in our glass does have a larger carbon footprint with a longer road to get to us than is often realized. However we can make choices that will lessen that footprint. Crafting your own wine is beneficial to our planet and there is satisfaction in sipping your green wine knowing that you’re doing your part.