Sustainably-minded people try to live ‘green’ in many aspects of their lives. They compost, recycle and they think about what they are throwing in the trash or pouring down the drain. They do what they can to reduce their carbon footprint on the earth. One thing that often gets overlooked is alcohol.
Did you know you can ‘go green’ and reduce your environmental impact while enjoying your red or white, too? Eco-conscious wine production due to concerns about the impacts of the industry is on the rise. Wine businesses are assessing and changing the ways they convert the grapes on the vine into a glass of wine at your dinner table.
The harsh realities of the wine industry
In order to make wine and other alcoholic beverages, farmers have to start by growing fruit and grains. Animals, insects and funguses also want to enjoy these tasty treats. The farmers spray environmentally toxic chemicals onto the fruit and grains to protect their crops. Fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides and herbicides keep pests off the fruit, but they poison our environment.
Our soil, water and air are polluted. According to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute about 67 millions birds die from pesticide poisoning each year. Humans have suffered as well, 200,000 people per year die from pesticide poisoning each year reveals a report from the United Nations.
In California, where 90 percent of American wine is made, there are 550,000 acres of vineyards. A mere two percent of them grow organic grapes. It will take consumer consciousness and a cooperative industry to change the way we produce wine.
The rise of microbreweries and local wineries
In the fight for a more sustainable wine and beverage industry, microbreweries, craft breweries and local vineyards are now popping up all over the world. These small, often family-owned businesses contribute to the local economy and add entertainment value to the community. Many vineyards and breweries offer tours and tastings and sponsor local sports events and festivals.
“Local” usually equals “green” since carbon footprint is reduced when distance of travel is minimized. Small-time producers too tend to be more conscious of the environment and their community. They use local and organic products whenever possible. Microbrewers often sell their beer in “growlers”, large bottles that can be refilled and reused. It requires less packaging because the wine is not shipped. And since their product is made and consumed locally, there is no need to burn fossil fuels transporting it across the country.
Wine by the keg
When we go out, we usually drink draft beer from a keg. Many people prefer that to a bottle or a can, and particularly those who are eco-conscious because it means reduced waste and need to recycle. A wine bar in Melbourne, Australia, Harry & Frankie serves wine in this manner, too. Socially, it has not been completely accepted, and it may seem crude to many wine enthusiasts, but it’s cheaper and more eco-friendly.
Instead of keeping thousands of bottles of wine in stock, the Melbourne wine bar purchases 300-liter batches of wine and decants them into 30-liter plastic kegs. This cuts down on packaging, transportation and distribution costs. The end result is a “greener” glass of wine that costs less too. In an interview Victorian Wine Industry Association chairman Chris Pfeiffer said the kegs “should help keep the wine, and it shouldn’t affect the taste or quality of the wine if inert gas is used.”
Higher-end wines stored this way would be made more affordable and accessible to consumers.
Conscious production methods
There are many different ways to make wine, and the processes have been developed and refined over the years, but the end goal has remained the same. Winemakers pick grapes off the vine, mash them into a slurry of skins, stems and seeds called a “must,” and ferment them into drinkable and enjoyable wine.
Today’s technology incorporates compressed air into the mixing and or the fermentation process. While this uses energy, it also speeds up the process. Using compressed air at the required pressure can also reduce energy costs by 50 percent.
The Australian wine industry’s efforts at sustainability
Australia is a major producer and exporter of wine. It exports more wine to China than any country other than France. It is embracing environmental concerns and addressing these head on, a smart strategy given how much more informed consumers are when it comes to the issue of sustainability.
The Winemakers Federation of Australia’s “Entwine Australia“ initiative is increasing awareness of this issue and helping producers implement sustainable production methods.
One Australian wine producer, Burch Family Wines, has embraced the efforts of the initiative, committing to minimizing how wineries and related industries negatively affect the environment. It has implemented several eco-friendly practices:
- Organic farming: The winery does not rely on synthetic pesticides to deter insects and follows the principles of biodynamics to control pests. It has also embraced principles of organic farming such as crop rotation and green manure to increase soil vitality and crop efficiency.
- Saving water: Instead of dumping wastewater used in the production processes, the business recycles the water and uses it for crop irrigation. It has barrels to collect rainwater and distribute throughout the vineyard.
- Decreased bottle mass: Some bottles are 28 percent lighter than they used to be. This means less energy to produce them, less wastewater and lighter shipping weights.
- Recycling: The winery recycles whenever possible. Discarded glass, paper, plastic and cardboard are gathered and prepared for collection by recycling companies.
Your adoption of greener drinking habits and choosing organic wines and locally produced alcohol goes a long way to reducing your personal environmental impact and helping to make the wine industry more sustainable. So cheers to you, and cheers to green wine!