Measuring wine carbon footprint For small winegrowers
If you are an ordinary consumer in Shanghai enjoying a glass of dark ruby Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles, or a New Yorker tasting a glass of a full-bodied wine from the Douro Valley, chances are you would not dream that the beautiful, heavy bottle in front of you is by far the element that contributes the most to your wine’s carbon footprint. But that is a given fact, that the bottle alone, along with its transportation, account for approximately 40% to 50% of its whole carbon accounting. And it is not the transport that weighs the most, it is the packaging.
Starting at the very beginning, glass is made with a glowing mixture of high-temperature melted sand and minerals, through an extremely carbon-intensive process, that consumes tremendous amounts of energy, mostly natural gas.
Yet, it is argued, no other type of wine container is as inert, providing the safest option in terms of food security and keeping your wine safe, with oxygen away from it, for decades, even centuries in a row. Recycled glass can easily be upcycled, and integrated in the production of new products, without compromising quality. And various global glass players are, either individually or by joining hands, acting to revert their impact.
Other factors come into play. In many cases, the bottle is sourced in another country or continent. This means it travelled halfway around the world to get to the premises of the wine producer to be bottled, and then shipped again to various countries to be enjoyed by consumers. But we can’t say that the further away the source, the most environmentally impactful it will be. You see, in this equation, the means of transport count significantly, as big container vessels (sea transport) are way more efficient than transport by land, such as trucks.
An example: If you live in San Francisco, you can get your wine from a California vineyard; but if you live in New York, it may be more environmentally friendly to buy wine sent by container ship from Bordeaux to a port in New Jersey than to buy American wine from Napa Valley, which would be delivered to you by truck, across the country. But if your wine is delivered to you by air, its carbon footprint will sky-rocket. The opposite will happen if it is shipped in bulk and bottled in the destination market, an alternative quite common in the UK, for example.
After you’ve had that wonderful bottle of wine, though not biodegradable, you can recycle it infinitely. But recycling rates vary tremendously from country to country and sometimes from region to region and it is also a very high energy process.
Exploring solutions: what would it take for producers to collectively reduce the weight of their bottle? for the industry to create reusable schemes for glass bottles? And how relevant is cork in offsetting part (or all?) of this carbon impact?
There is a growing number of alternative packaging available: PET recycled flat bottles, cans, paper bottles, PET bottles, bag-in-box format, box tetra pak or kegged wine. And they are all lighter, with a significantly lower carbon footprint. Nevertheless, starting with consumer’s perception (or would that be producers’?), many of these options also come with a “but”, from non-recyclable components, to food safety issues, to fossil fuels origin.
The fact is: the most simple way to address wine’s carbon footprint is by starting with your bottle.
In this Climate Talk we will discuss the various issues around the wine bottle, the element that contributes the most to the carbon footprint of wine.
We’ll try to understand how producers, trade and consumers are perceiving it. We’ll have a roundtable with various players discussing what is happening in the industry to address this issue, consumer’s perspectives, customers position in the matter, producers willingness to address their bottle issue and alternatives in the market.
4:30pm Lisbon & London; 11:30am New York; 8:30am California; 06:30pm Helsinki
What is sustainable container in wine? Does its definition take into account the whole life cycle of the product?
Does wine really have to come in a heavy glass bottle? Is this a consumer’s or an industry’s perception?
What do you consider a sustainable container? Which format suits best different drinking occasions? Or products? and how is each one perceived by consumers?
What will drive the change to more sustainable packaging in wine? Consumers, legislation, producers, trade?
How much knowledge and perception consumers have on the impact of packaging on the carbon footprint of wine?
How do you view your role as an influencer on educating different audiences (consumers, producers) about this matter?
What about reusable schemes for glass bottles? They’ve worked in the past and there are a few examples in France and Finland, for example… what are the actuals barriers?
MARTIN R. REYES, MW . USA
Owner of Reyes Wine Group and Master of Wine
A first-generation American, Martin has held influential roles in many sectors of the industry, including director, importer, educator, tasting judge, and award-winning producer & writer. He has directed national club programs for The New York Times, Food & Wine Magazine and was named one of Wine Enthusiast’s Top Forty under Forty Tastemakers in 2015. He became GM/Winemaker in 2016 for Sonoma-based Peter Paul Wines, a role he continues to this day.
In 2018, Martin founded Reyes Wine Group LLC, a multidisciplinary trade consultancy. Recently, his company has sharpened its focus in the sustainability space, with climate and scenario forecasting tools, B-Corp, True Zero Waste, and GHG Certification support. He co-wrote the winning Sustainability Heroes article for Jancis Robinson’s 2020 Writing Competition and authored a review of the Response to the Climate Crisis for The Napa Valley Viticultural Society. Martin is also Co-President of Wine Unify, which empowers people of color in wine through education funding and mentorship. During his spare time, Martin attempts to become fluent in a fifth language, and unfortunately for his family and dinner guests, is an avid purveyor of dad humor. He also happens to be the first Master of Wine of Mexican descent in the world.
JANCIS ROBINSON, MW . UK
Wine critic, journalist and writer. Founder of jancisrobinson.com
Voted the world’s most influential wine critic in polls in the US, France and internationally in 2018, Jancis views herself as a wine writer rather than a wine critic. She writes daily for JancisRobinson.com and weekly for the Financial Times. She is founder-editor of The Oxford Companion to Wine, co-author with Hugh Johnson of The World Atlas of Wine (4.7 million copies sold just before the 8th edition was published in October 2019) and co-author of Wine Grapes, each of these books recognised as a standard reference worldwide. The 24-Hour Wine Expert (2017) is a slim paperback guide to the practical essentials of wine.
She travels all over the world to conduct wine events – often for the global literacy initiative Room to Read – and in 2018 launched her own hand-made, dishwasher-friendly, ideal wine glass. In 1984 she was the first person outside the wine trade to pass the rigorous Master of Wine exams and in 2003 she was awarded an OBE by Her Majesty the Queen, on whose cellar she now advises. In one week in April 2016 she was presented with France’s Officier du Mérite Agricole, the German VDP’s highest honour and, in the US, her fourth James Beard Award. She now has six, including being the only wine writer elevated the James Beard Cookbook Hall of Fame.
She loves and lives for wine in all its glorious diversity, generally favouring balance and subtlety over sheer mass.
CHARLES BIELER . USA
Owner at Bieler Wines; Co-Founder of Gotham Project
Charles Bieler is a winemaker and an innovator, with an eye for creative opportunity, an ability to spot an opening before it materializes, and a knack for taking two or three outrageous propositions and combining them into
Charles’ history gave him an uncanny eye for innovation alongside a healthy respect for tradition. His first years in the wine business were in the early 90s, when his father founded Chateau Routas, an acclaimed producer of Grenache-based rosé and red wine in the Coteaux Varois region of Provence. That time stoked a lifelong passion for rosé that has not diminished decades later. Back in the days when rosé was considered gauche, Charles traversed the US in a pink Cadillac, promoting the Routas rosé, helping to light a fire under what is now a highly respected category in the US market. Charles continues to beat the pink drum, crafting Bieler Père et Fils, a Syrah-based wine from France made with his father, and the eponymous Charles & Charles, produced with Charles Smith of Washington state’s K Vintners.
Always intrigued by the intersection between Old and New World winemaking, Charles has consistently sought out projects that span a remarkable array of regions. Within that variety, Charles loves the energy and exchange of ideas that he feels ultimately leads to terroir-driven, soulful wines. He and partners launched the Three Thieves line in 2001, soon followed with the Bandit label in Tetra Pak containers, one of the most successful alternative packaging wines in the industry. In 2008, Charles partnered with winemaker Charles Smith to launch Charles & Charles wines, a collection of terroir-driven wines reflecting the best of Washington State. Charles co-founded a keg wine business called the Gotham Project which led the wine-on-tap trend at restaurants. In recent years Charles has even further explored with projects The SHOW based in both Argentina and California, and Shatter, a Grenache from Maury France. Eventually Charles and his father sold Chateau Routas and established Bieler Père et Fils—meaning father and son—to focus solely on rosé. And rosé is still the wine that Charles asserts has a vibrancy and nuance unlike any other. Food & Wine Magazine named Charles as one of the “40 Big Food Thinkers Under 40.” In 2014, Charles was recognized in the Wine Enthusiast’s 40 under 40 America’s Tastemakers.
Sustainability Manager at Alko
Laura Varpasuo works as Sustainability Manager at Alko Oy, the alcohol retail monopoly of Finland, with her responsibilities mainly centering around environmental issues. Laura has created and maintains Alko’s Green Choice product communications, a concept that helps customers make more sustainable purchases. Laura guides Alko’s strategy towards reduced carbon emissions from all phases in the value chain and has also acted as the Chairperson of the Nordic Alcohol Monopolies’ (Alko, Systembolaget, Vinbudin and Vinmonopolet) Environmental Working Group since 2018. Off work Laura’s passions are horses and skiing as well as endless (at least if you ask her husband!) home renovation, summer cottage and gardening projects.