This month, world leaders gathered in Glasgow for COP26-Sir David Attenborough described the meeting as "our last chance", making necessary to protect the planet from the effects of a "serious" climate crisis Change.
At COP26, wine will not become the focus of global attention. Compared with domestic heating or aviation, its carbon footprint is moderate. However, this glass of wine in our hands will still make a major contribution to environmental damage and global warming by degrading soil, reducing biodiversity, polluting groundwater, and releasing carbon dioxide during fermentation, as well as during packaging and transportation.
Efforts are being made to respond. The Porto Summit in 2019 called for action. Many wine producers, especially Torres in Spain and Jackson Family Wines in California, are adopting less carbon-intensive methods. However, as Santiago Navarro of Garçon Wines said: “The conversation is far from taking the necessary action.” Wine consumers are also too slow to change their habits.
Garçon Wines’ Eco Flat bottles are made from recycled PET
Ed Robinson, a wine buyer at Co-op, a British supermarket, said, "People's attention is shifting to what is in the bottle and how it is made." It is said that the pandemic has made us more aware of the fragility of the earth. In a 2020 global survey by Getty Images, 81% of consumers consider themselves "environmentally friendly". However, only 50% said that they actually only bought "brands that try to be environmentally friendly."
Richard Bampfield MW believes that “If sustainability is properly communicated, consumers will be willing to pay more for sustainable wines”. Laws and certification schemes regarding sustainability vary from country to country or even region; few producers show the carbon footprint of their wines. "There are many different symbols and signs on the label," said Maiju Sirviö, a sustainability expert at Alko, Finland's national alcohol monopoly. "It's really hard for consumers to know what to do."
Bampfield is collaborating with Toby Weber of the Innovation Forum through the new Sustainable Wine Roundtable to establish a shared vision for sustainable development and set global standards. "The younger generation cares about provenance and is ready to ask embarrassing questions," Bampfield said. "We may soon reach a point where producers will not be able to sell wine unless they can prove that they are sustainably produced." The US publication "Wine Advocate" now has the "Robert Parker Green Badge", through Identify wines produced by "outstanding supporters of sustainable development" and "provide support for wine lovers who want to drink more sustainably".
Although the focus is on making wine in a more sustainable way in vineyards and wineries, the "elephant in the room" is the packaging—especially the glass bottle. Glass is inert, durable, and very suitable for aging wines. But its manufacturing is energy-intensive, and the shape and weight of traditional round bottles are very low during transportation and storage. "If we start from scratch, no one will come up with a round glass bottle to hold wine," Navarro said.
In addition to being highly carbon-intensive, recycled glass is also complex and fragmented. According to Charles Bieler, co-founder of the Gotham Project, a US venture capital firm, “Only 30% of glass in the United States is recycled. By weight, 10% of landfills in the United States are glass.” In 2018, approximately 68% of bottles in the UK were recycled (British Glass/FEVE), compared to 76% in the EU-28, and 90% or more in Switzerland and most of Scandinavia.
Bruce Schneider and Charles Biller of Project Gotham
Ten years ago, a study commissioned by the California Wine Association showed that more than half of its carbon footprint comes from packaging and transportation (see the image below). Research in Australia estimates that the use and recycling of glass bottles account for 68% of its wine industry’s carbon emissions. "Sustainable practices in viticulture are important," Biller said, "but they are only part of the picture. We can play a bigger role by changing the way we pack and transport wine.
According to OIV (International Organization of Vine and Wine), more than 30 billion bottles of wine are produced every year. Trade estimates indicate that the vast majority (about 90%) is consumed within a few weeks after purchase, and only a small portion is purchased for aging.
The only reason for bottling freshly-drinking wine is to meet consumers' expectations of how the wine should be presented. Shipping wine in bulk and locally packaged in an easily recyclable format is cheaper and more sustainable.
Navarro believes that "the most important thing is that large wine companies need to change their practices-including companies that hold sustainability meetings and then put their wine in the glass." Biller believes that "we need to get more commitments from retailers to change."
Trade data show that today about 40%-45% of UK wine imports arrive in bulk, but this was more common in the past before bottling at source became the norm. The Gotham Project is an exception. It imports wine into the United States in the form of "flexitank", then puts it in kegs and bottles and sells it nationwide.
Now more and more high-quality wines are packaged in non-glass, including bag-in-box (BIB), bag and tube, aluminum cans, paper-based Tetra Pak and made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) Some plastic bottles are easier to recycle than others. "BIB wines and cans give customers the opportunity to enjoy wine in a more sustainable way," said Marien Rodriguez of Waitrose, a British supermarket. "Customers understand that these wines can be of high quality and environmentally responsible."
Garçon Wines Eco Flat bottles made from recycled PET are cleverly designed, have a much lower carbon footprint than glass bottles, and are easier to transport and stack. Ed Robinson said that Co-op's new Banrock Station flat PET bottle wine series has aroused many people's interest.
For more traditional wines, Nomen in Oregon sells its wines in PET bottles that look the same as classic bottles. Sirviö of Alko commented: “PET bottles may be the biggest growth area for wine. Finnish consumers will not be bothered by plastic packaging because they believe it will be effectively recycled. Compared to recycled glass, it requires less energy Much.
The well-respected British Wine Association is now preparing for its 150th anniversary in 2024. Its goal is to achieve carbon neutrality by 2028 and zero carbon by 2040.
In addition to some "tactical" changes, such as installing solar panels in its warehouses, it has just released a new sustainable development strategy.
It plans to share environmental best practices among its producers, help members of the association understand the environmental impact of their wines, reduce all packaging to a minimum, and is committed to ensuring that all packaging is easy to recycle. According to the head of acquisition Pierre Mansour, the company is also considering introducing a scorecard for the carbon footprint of every wine it sells.
"Developing an appropriate sustainable development strategy is a bit like the new Internet: it will make or break the business of the future," Mansour said. "If we want our children and grandchildren in 50 years to enjoy high-quality, distinctive wines that reflect their origin, we must invest today to protect the terroir of high-quality wines."
According to Biller, canned wines, once a weird novelty, are now "explosive" in the United States, partly because they are convenient for picnics, barbecues and other outdoor activities. Cans are cheaper to produce and transport than glass, and can be recycled almost endlessly. Wine critic Jancis Robinson MW said: "The best quality of wine I have tasted from cans I am happy to bring to the table." Pierre Mansour of The Wine Society said, "Compared with the same bottled wine, He was deeply impressed by the quality of the canned wine." Canned wine brands such as The Copper Crew and CanCan from South Africa are well received.
"We are all responsible for the impression of bottled wine," Jancis Robinson admits. "We have to take more measures to convey the message that wine with alternative packaging can also be cool." Biller, who has been selling wines at Tetra Pak for many years, agrees: "We need to abandon high-quality wines. The concept in a glass bottle. You can pour bad wine into a glass and it will still suck; you can put good wine in Tetra and it will still be great.
However, consumers may need some persuasiveness. 'Wine is a romantic product. The popularity of packaging and cork has not changed for centuries," Ed Robinson said. "So wine in cans or flat recycled plastic bottles is a major disruption. "Many wine lovers will continue to look forward to wines in glass bottles. At present, glass is the only practical material for wines that require aging. Therefore, a key challenge is to use it more sustainably.
Re-bottling in cooperatives and ordering wine in glass bottles used to be common. Bieler of the Gotham Project and Muriel Chatel of Borough Wines (see box below) are a small but determined band that tries to make it easier for drinkers to return the bottles for reuse in order to avoid the need for recycling. This is a multifaceted challenge that involves creating transportation infrastructure, investing in bottle washing plants, using easy-to-remove labels, and—perhaps most importantly—changing our habits. Biller said he was "determined to do everything possible" to make his return and reuse program work across the United States.
Damien Barton of the famous Bordeaux wine family is another entrepreneur who wants to "prove that you can make money while making things better." In addition to operating St-Julien's three-level growth Château Langoa Barton and 225 (a sustainable Bordeaux wine brand that is bottled and transported in bulk for the UK), he also collaborates with Borough Wines' returnable bottle program for some Barton wines, including Moulis en Médoc's second wine estate, Morvenson Barton Estate. "It takes time to get organized," he admits, "but if Coca-Cola can do it, so can we."
After starting to sell French wines at a stall in the Borough Market of London 20 years ago, Muriel Chatel of the Borough Wine Company developed a "zero waste" method, through a partnership with Damien Cooperate to provide reusable barreled wines and test bottles from all over the world to recycle Bordeaux Barton.
"We don't want to preach to consumers," she said. "We just want to show that there is another transparent, profitable and sustainable way of doing business."
Through its sustainable wine solutions business, the company provides zero-package bottles and kegs to the wine trade across the UK, uses electric trucks in London and picks up empty bottles that are steam cleaned at high temperatures for reuse. "The world is ready for change," Chartres said.
'Consumers really care about sustainability, but recycling is difficult. Sustainability is convenient and inexpensive.
Chatel plans to expand her product range to 100 wines in the coming year, while implementing a bottle return program in other parts of the UK, including Manchester and Scotland.
Perhaps the simplest victory is to reduce the weight of the glass bottle. It is believed that consumers associate heavier bottles with quality, but unlike sparkling wines that must withstand high pressure, still wines can be transported in lightweight glasses. Many leading producers, such as Verget in Burgundy or Felton Road in New Zealand, produce fine wines in light bottles. "Heavy bottles are ridiculous," said Patton, who reduced the weight of the bottles at Leoville Winery and Lange Patton Winery. "Maybe retailers should refuse to include large bottles of wine on the list," Jancis Robinson suggested. Ed Robinson agreed: "If consumers start to boycott overweight bottles, it will be a good start."
In Finland, Alko is an example. Every manufacturer that supplies Alko must sign an agreement on ethical principles. The "green choice" symbol indicates that the wine is biodynamic, carbon neutral, natural, organic, sustainable, vegan and/or responsibly packaged. Glass is still widely used, but alternative forms of packaging are making progress, and, crucially, Finland has an efficient recycling system. Alko publishes statistics on its total carbon footprint every year.
Creative and forward-looking channels such as Gotham Project, Borough Wines, and Alko show that the sourcing and distribution of wine can be more sustainable. But these are just small steps in the race of time. The threat of climate change and environmental degradation is a global emergency, and our overall wine consumption pattern is still unsustainable.
We wine drinkers and everyone else in the supply chain—producers, distributors, and retailers—have a role to play. "Even if you only drink premium wines, you should also care about how mass-market wines are packaged," Navarro said. "If you don't do this, climate change may make it impossible for premium wine producers to survive in their current region." As Patton said: "If everyone does a little bit, it will make a big difference."
As Pierre Mansour of the Wine Association put it, “wine drinkers need to understand the consequences of their choice”. Here are 10 ways you can buy wine more sustainably and help influence positive changes in production, packaging, and shipping practices: