This is the first of two parts looking at green wine and environmentally friendly ways to produce and package wine. Part II, which looks at how green wine tastes, is here.
Each week, I get a handful of news releases detailing the wonders of some producer’s latest foray into environmentally friendly wine. Almost always, the releases focus on the packaging and almost never on the wine itself. Their point, it seems, is that we should focus on the product’s carbon footprint (a way to measure how much in the way of greenhouse gases ordinary things produce), instead of the product.
This is not a good idea. People drink wine because they like the way it tastes, not because it comes in a box that meets European Union specifications. In addition, the entire concept of what’s green and what isn’t is so unclear that some green products could be worse for the environment than some non-green products.
Green wine has a role to play, but only if it tastes good. If it doesn’t, then consumers will ignore it -- regardless of how many trees the packaging saves.
The first problem with green wine -– even before deciding whether it tastes good or not -- is defining it. Does it need to come in low carbon footprint packaging? Should it be organic? Does it need to be local (and local is local)?
I’ve yet to see a good answer to any of these questions. And that may be because there aren’t any. The issue is so intertwined that it’s impossible to decipher. For instance, is it more green to drink organic wines from California than non-organic wines from Texas? The former has a smaller carbon footprint for production, but a bigger carbon footprint for sending it to my local store. Or is a properly made boxed wine automatically green, even if it comes from Australia – which carries with it a massive shipping carbon footprint?
This is more than a philosophical discussion. The wine industry may well be looking at green wine backwards, says John Bookwalter, who runs Bookwalter Winery in Washington state. It may need to look not at the packaging or the grapes, but at where their supplies come from.
There is a significant carbon footprint expense in bringing French barrels, Portugese corks. Italian glass and Spanish foil to Bookwalter’s winery thousands and thousands of miles form the source of the supplies. And this is even before he ships the finished product, with its attendant carbon expense.
“All of the above choices were of course mine,” he says, “but now with fuel costs as high as they are, production jobs leaving the U.S. and the significant carbon emission footprint our products “imprint” on the environment in terms of delivery, I am really re-assessing our sources for our supplies. I will not sacrifice quality, but I will certainly seek out localized sources in the future to a much greater degree.”
In other words, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to sell a wine as green when the carbon footprint for the packaging materials defeats the savings in using green packaging.
Consider the consequences for some wineries: Screw caps instead of corks and stainless steel aging instead of barrel aging among them. Is green wine worth that?,