Wine gets green

The carbon footprint of wine production

By David Baverstock

Herdade do Esporão

The issue of global warming – or better, climate change – is of great concern for the wine industry, given that very small increases in temperature during the grape maturation stage can have a huge impact on overall wine style and quality.

Levels of carbon dioxide have increased by human activity, mostly by the burning of fossil fuels and, as a consequence, the greenhouse effect has become more intense and average global temperatures have risen.

In the winery, by far the biggest contribution comes from the huge amount of energy required to provide refrigeration for temperature control of fermentation and cold stabilisation. Perhaps the two most obvious and significant contributors to wine’s carbon footprint are those involved in packaging and transporting wine, and although not much can be done with transportation, packaging is perhaps the easiest to tackle.

Realistically only for cheaper wines, options include bulk shipping and bottling in the country of destination, as well as the bag-in-box concept and Tetra Pak. For higher quality wines where glass bottles are used, the tendency is to use lighter weight bottles.

In the case of closures, cork has a significantly lower carbon footprint than its main competitor, screwcap, and cork forests have a positive impact on reducing global warming by retaining CO2.

Another important aspect that should also be considered is the marketing and selling of wine. A winery that sells most of its wine locally as opposed to exporting it will obviously have a much lower carbon footprint, both in relation to transportation but also air miles.

In an effort to reduce the carbon footprint as much as possible, the carbon neutral concept has been developed by several pioneering wineries, the first being Grove Mill in New Zealand.

This involves a two-pronged strategy: the first being to reduce emissions as much as possible, the second to offset any remaining emissions that can’t be eliminated. This offsetting involves the buying of carbon credits and the money is usually put towards planting trees that will absorb the excess CO2. Other solutions involve investing in sustainable power sources such as wind and solar energy to generate the winery’s own electricity.

The concept of carbon zero is still a long way off for most wineries, but it will no doubt become increasingly important as retailers and consumers become aware of its environmental significance.