Wine regions the world over are struggling as they face with the repercussions of climate change, with growers from Champagne to California questioning their very futures in the industry. But the opposite is also true: winemaking can have a profound effect on climate change, and choosing the right wine can be the difference between remaining relatively carbon-neutral or adding a substantial increase to your personal carbon footprint.
The ways in which the winemaking industry is influencing climate change are myriad. Most wineries grow monocultures, which reduce local biodiversity and incite the proliferation of plant pathogens and diseases. This leads to a more intensive use of pesticides: European wine, in the words of the Pesticide Action Network, is “systematically contaminated with pesticide residues,” and American wine is just as contaminated, if not more so, with 25 million pounds of the chemicals applied to conventionally-grown wine grapes in California alone in 2010.
The problems continue on the shipping and bottling end of things: Sustainable Wine Growing estimates that almost half of a wine bottle’s carbon footprint comes from packaging.
Choosing your bottle, then, is more important than ever. Here are three ways you can make a positive difference while enjoying your next glass.
1. Choose Both Organic and Biodynamic
The USDA organic seal is always a good indication that a wine is at least somewhat sustainable. Organic wines, after all, are required by law to follow certain protocols, including eschewing synthetic pesticides and additives. Choose certified organic wine rather than wine made with organic grapes, which ensures that organic practices follow the wine from harvest to bottling.
But organic isn't the only indication that a wine is made responsibly: biodynamic and sustainable, while not regulated by the U.S. government, can point you in the direction of an even more responsibly produced wine.
Biodynamic winemakers look at the vineyard as its own ecosystem, making farming decisions based on the cycles of the moon, among other factors. These winemakers attempt to reduce their intervention as much as possible, eschewing manipulation of wine like adding yeast or adjusting acidity.
Sustainable winemakers, meanwhile, keep resource management at the forefront of their winemaking style, reducing water usage and relying on renewable energy as much as possible. A number of different certifying bodies such as Environmental Management System from International Organization for Standardization or Certified California Sustainable Vineyard and Winery do certify these practices, so keep an eye out for these and other certifications on your favorite wine bottle's label.
2. Look into Alternative Packaging
Wine itself only accounts for 40 percent of the volume of a case, according to The Academic Wino; most of the rest of this is heavy glass, which is a not-so-carbon-neutral material to ship.
“Over the last 20 years, wine marketers have come to believe that the public associates thick, heavy wine bottles with higher-quality wines,” reports the New York Times. “The heavier the bottles, the more people would be willing to pay for them: This equation seems to be accepted in marketing departments worldwide, wherever aspirations evolve into pretensions.”
Boxed wine has an unfortunate rep, but a number of winemakers are flying in the face of these preconceived notions. Archer Roose, La Petite Frog, Bota Box, and La Vieille Ferme are all producing great boxed wines, and more wineries are releasing top boxed vintages every year. Boxes, kegs, and cans are all great alternatives to bottles that will help reduce the environmental impact of your glass.
3. Educate Yourself
As with most purchases you make, your best weapon is your own knowledge: no label will ever encompass everything you need to know about a product, so asking questions is key.
“Consumers are most powerful, in my view, in their role as buyers of products, so they can have an impact if they are able to distinguish between products that are climate-friendly and those that are not,” The Wine Economist writer Mike Veseth tells the New York Times. “The problem is that, unless they do a lot of research, consumers don’t really know the carbon footprint of the wines they purchase and so cannot steer their dollars to those who do best.”
So it's time to do your due diligence! Get in touch with your favorite wineries and ask them about their practices: do they maintain cover crops? Do they make their own organic compost? Do they irrigate their vines? How do they manage water resources on their land?
The good news? Most winemakers will be happy to talk about their practices – especially if they’re making efforts to make their production cycle regenerative and sustainable. Your questions will likely excite them and encourage them to tell you even more about your favorite wines.
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