We are told that if everyone on the entire planet takes every possible measure to reduce their carbon footprint NOW, we could manage to limit the temperature increasing to two degrees Celsius by 2050 instead of three degrees. But even two degrees is already too much. Glaciers are melting, and an upsurge in extreme temperatures is causing increasing incidences of flooding. Tornadoes, wildfires and drought are now common occurrences.
One only needs to turn on the radio, watch TV or read the newspaper to learn about another second side effect of climate change. Activist Greta Thunberg is urging governments and the population to act. The to-do list is long and the situation is scarily overwhelming. But what if, step by step, you could look at your daily habits and, one gesture at the time, make a difference. Starting with the carbon footprint of your wine glass.
There is a big trend among producers to cultivate vines according to organic and biodynamic principles. While it’s healthier for the body, it doesn’t say much about the carbon footprint of that winery.
As a reminder, a carbon footprint is defined as a measure of the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by a person, group or organization’s activities over a particular time period. Unfortunately, very few wine producers make this calculation throughout their entire line operation.
“Organic and biodynamic viticulture is not enough; we have to reduce our carbon footprint,” says Miguel A. Torres, president of Familia Torres. He has so far invested more than 12 million Euros in research to find solutions for how a winery can reduce its carbon footprint. As a consumer, how do you know the carbon footprint associated with your bottle of wine? It’s not easy, simply because many wineries do not know either. But here are a few guidelines that can help make a difference.
An environmental focus
For wine lovers, digging up information is the first step. Wineries with established programs to reduce their impact on the environment usually communicate their values and mission on social media and on their websites. It requires some work on your part, but there could be worse subjects on which to do research! For instance, the Torres & Earth page on the Familia Torres website gives you some great examples of important measures a winery can adapt to reduce its carbon emissions.
Renewable energy, energy efficiency, sustainable transportation, water management optimization, lighter bottles, carbon sinks and waste management, adaptation, nature conservation and research are all categories one should look at. A serious producer will have numbers to match its actions and goals. Familia Torres has reduced its CO2 emissions per bottle by 27.6 percent between 2008 and 2018, and they are committed to reaching 30 percent by 2020.
Initiatives like these are likely to grow in the years to come. Last March, two powerful wine families, the Familia Torres and the Jackson Family Wines, joined together to create the International Wineries for Climate Action. The goal is to gather a group of environmentally committed wineries working together to decarbonize the wine industry and mitigate their impact on climate change.
They want to achieve an 80 percent reduction in total carbon emissions across the industry by 2045. Katie Jackson, vice-president of sustainability at Jackson Family Wines, says that many wineries have already come forward and shown interest.
She hopes that, down the road, the group can have a logo that can be put on bottles to guide consumers. But, for now, the best way for them to communicate their actions is through social media and their website. They also educate distributors, retailers and sommeliers, who then share information with consumers. The Jackson Family began paying closer attention to its carbon emissions in 2008, starting with investments in energy efficiency. “We now are aligned with the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] and we do the actions required to avoid the increase of 2 degrees Celsius,” Jackson shared. The company publishes regular reports online showing their progress.
Look for certifications
While the International Wineries for Climate Action has yet to develop a logo, the logos belonging to other associations promoting sustainability can already be seen on wine bottles. Each association has its own guidelines and philosophies, with websites to explain further the respective rules that must be followed to get the certification. Some labels to look for include: LIVE from the Pacific Northwest, Sustainable Australia Winegrowing (SAW) from Australia, HEV (High Environmental Value) from France, Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing and Sustainable Winemaking Ontario Certified. Another one to seek out is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), a rating system that is recognized as the international mark of excellence in green building.
Okanagan-based producer Tantalus was the first Canadian winery to be LEED certified and Stratus Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake also has the certification. In addition, wineries are creating their own protocols to communicate their dedication to the environment. In 2011, Rhône Valley producer Gabriel Meffre decided to commit to sustainable development and corporate social responsibility. As a result, in 2018, they were awarded Level 4 (Exemplary) of the AFNOR AFAQ ISO 26000 certification, the highest possible level.
The winery subsequently created a sticker that reads “Sustainable Development Exemplary” for its bottles along with a brief explanation on the back label. It’s worth nothing that all of these certifications cost money so some producers may have sustainable practices but prefer not to go through the process of getting certified. Hence the importance of asking questions.
The Canadian certification I am excited about, and which we are likely to see increasingly, is Carbonzero. As mentioned in its mission statement, the Carbonzero company is committed to providing the highest quality carbon offsets, sourced through the most stringent verification practices, based on a principle of transparency and an open audit trail. Steven Campbell, owner of the import company Lifford Wine & Spirits Inc, originally encouraged the Italian winery Santa Margherita to get Carbonzero certification for its Pinot Grigio.
A high volume of this white wine is exported to the Canadian market every year. Santa Margherita’s Pinot Grigio became certified in 2014. Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from the production and distribution of this wine is now offset by investments in high-quality Canadian carbon-offset projects. By doing so, Santa Margherita has, over the last six years, offset the amount of GHG emissions equivalent to what is trapped by approximately 15,000 acres of forest in one year.
Even though Campbell is no longer the winery’s importer, he is still very dedicated to sustainability. His company is itself Carbonzero certified and, furthermore, he recently launched the Campbell Kind Wine, his own Carbonzero-branded wine line.
In this project, he is working with more than eight different respected producers from six different countries, including Telmo Rodríguez in Spain, Bruce Jack in South Africa and Steve Smith MW in New Zealand. He tracks the GHG emissions of packaging and transportation and offsets them with Carbonzero. Last October, Campbell received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from York University for his commitment to sustainability.
Organic & biodynamic viticulture is not enough; we have to reduce our carbon footprint.Miguel A. Torres
Packaging: change your mindset
I heard multiple times from experts that packaging alone can be responsible for up to 40 percent of the carbon footprint of a bottle of wine. Weight matters! Don’t think that a wine is of a better quality because the bottle is taller and or heavier. It’s just marketing. Thankfully, more wineries are making efforts to reduce the weight of their wine containers.
Gabriel Meffre went through the arduous process of developing a lightweight bottle that weighs just 410 grams while its original ones were 570 grams. By using 2.5 million lightweight bottles, the winery save 250 tons of glass every year, which represents 178 tons of C02, the equivalent of 14,000 kilometres in a car, 1.8 tonnes of paper or 20 return flights between London and Paris. Distributors, including Canadian liquor boards, are also on board. The LCBO was an international leader in reducing beverage alcohol waste.
Through their initiative of requiring a standard 420-gram bottle for wines priced under $16, they reduced an annual waste of six million kilograms in GHG emissions by 20 percent. SAQ is also turning green. Their goal is to have all regular products priced under $16 sold in 420-gram or lighter bottles by spring 2020. Tetra Pak and boxed wines are among other alternative containers with a smaller carbon footprint. This is why the SAQ has encouraged those in 2017 and 2018, with a resulting increase of 33 percent in their boxed wine offerings.
Wine sold in kegs is another exciting growing trend good for the environment. In British Columbia, Chris Coletta, who owns the Okanagan Crush Pad Winery, sells four different brands in 19.5-litre kegs to 15 to 20 restaurants. The environment was the driving decision, she says. It makes a lot of sense for a sommelier to celebrate this packaging, especially for local wine with a high turnover.
When consumers support and request something, sommeliers and producers listen. So, use your buying power! While restaurants like Tap & Barrel in Vancouver propose an impressive selection of local wine on tap, we need more people to embrace the concept.
Of course, this is easier to do if you are close to a wine-producing region. Nevertheless, pay attention to where the bottle you’re purchasing comes from.
Even though efforts are made use hybrid or electric trucks for shipping and to put stock on trains for part of the route, traditional transportation still represents the most important way to ship wine. Buying the bottle that has travelled the least number of kilometres to reach your home is a good idea. Many of us already do it naturally for food, so why not wine?
The to-do list doesn’t stop here. It is a much longer and complex story. But these steps will get you started. Remember, curiosity is your best friend. Ask lots of questions, seek information on social media and keep an open mind.
Along the way, you’re likely to buy something you’ve never heard of — exploring new grape varieties and regions, as well as getting acquainted with new producers, is an enjoyable way to contribute the health of the planet. In doing so, it’s possible to reduce your carbon footprint, one glass of wine at the time.