A toast to eco-friendly beverages: How to spot sustainable wine
04/30/2022 / By Rose Lidell / Comments
A toast to eco-friendly beverages: How to spot sustainable wine

The occasional glass of wine might seem like a harmless treat, but according to experts, the wine you drink can significantly impact the environment.

If you want to do your part and help save the planet, try looking for sustainable wines to pair with your dinner.

Water waste and the environment

According to Keith Wallace, a winemaker and sommelier, more than six gallons of water are required to produce just one gallon of wine. Wallace, who is also a professor and the founder of the Wine School of Philadelphia, the largest independent wine school in the country, added that various methods such as irrigation, sprays and frost protection used in winemaking require a lot of water.

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As an agricultural product, wine depends on many ever-changing factors that impact the taste, look and longevity of each bottle. These factors, collectively known as the terroir, include the temperature, the weather and the ground.

Terroir is derived from the Latin word “terra,” meaning earth or land. The French coined the term to describe a wine’s “sense of place.”

There’s no English equivalent for this word which was originally used to distinguish the winemaking practices of old world wine and new world wine. Terroir affects the grapes used to make all bottles of wine.

 

However, environmental issues are affecting the wine industry as a whole. In time, popular wines may become harder to produce. These wines could also lose their defining characteristics as the planet changes.

As the director of a wine school, Wallace himself has noticed that more of his students are interested in wine and sustainability.

Sustainability and subjectivity

Because sustainability isn’t an absolute, wine and its agricultural counterparts can be sustainable in some ways but not in other facets. Winemaking may be hyper eco-conscious, but bottling and shipping may harm the planet beyond what less sustainable vineyard habits would admit to.

Sustainability isn’t necessarily organic or inorganic, but somewhere in between. In fact, organically grown and made wine isn’t automatically considered organic wine.

Vanessa Conlin, head of wine at the online wine store Wine Access, says that in the wine industry, many growers farm organically. However, before they can be certified as an organic farm, growers must keep records of practices for several years and submit them to a certifying organization like California Certified Organic Farmers.

These different challenges make it difficult for a wine to become officially organic certified. Unfortunately, this also means that organic practices like avoiding harmful and synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and other toxins from the wine-growing and making process, while better for the environment and consumer health, aren’t always obvious to wine drinkers.

But in France, the Ecocert, a special European Union regulated label, marks biological wines which are free of artificial pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. This suggests that in America, an indicator can be enforced with a little help from the government.

In the country, organic is the most popular label used to identify a biological wine. Wines labeled organic should be free of any added sulfites.

While sulfites are a natural by-product of fermentation, many winemakers add sulfur dioxide as an antimicrobial and an antioxidative agent. Sulfites help stabilize wines to make sure that the bottle content tastes as good as expected when you drink it.

Conlin says there is a major difference between sustainable and organic farming: While sustainability can help protect the environment for future generations, it doesn’t strictly require organic practices, although many do.

Sustainability also factors in the health of the entire business, such as energy efficiency, water preservation and the well-being of employees.

Biodynamic wine, which utilizes a closed ecosystem or no outside fertilizers or alternative products, is one example of a type of sustainable wine.

Wine for the eco-conscious

The carbon footprint of global winemaking and global wine consumption is a serious matter. Global wine consumption, which requires cases of wine to be shipped from California to Spain or even back to Oregon, or Alaska and other places, leaves a significant carbon footprint.

And since wine is region-specific and only so many regions can create drinkable bottles, ground and air transportation are responsible for almost all of the wine industry’s CO2 emissions.

While farmers can look for other eco-friendly pesticide alternatives, people in other parts of the world will still crave Napa Cabernet. One solution for this hurdle is simple: better packaging.

According to Conlin, a lot of sustainable producers are doing their best to lessen their carbon footprint by moving to lighter-weight glass bottles. Others are considering the use of alternative packaging, especially since the actual production of glass is energy-intensive.

Additionally, other types of alternative packaging like cans and kegs are lighter to ship. Kegs are also reusable, making them a better choice compared to glass bottles.

If you’re not very knowledgeable about wines, it can be rather difficult to figure out how to purchase a bottle of wine sustainably.

Start by examining the physical packaging of wines. Labels like Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing, additional local certifications and the universal Demeter qualification (which only applies to biodynamic wines), can help you make more eco-friendly choices.

When buying sustainable wine, look for key terms like “sustainable,” “integrated pest management” or “biodynamic.” These terms indicate that a wine was made with sustainability in mind.

Note that winemakers also use animal-derived products to clarify the wine via “fining.” Some fining agents include albumin (egg whites), casein (a milk protein), gelatin (animal protein) and isinglass (fish bladder protein).

Animal agriculture is the second largest contributor to human-made greenhouse gas emissions after fossil fuels. It’s also a leading cause of biodiversity loss, deforestation and water and air pollution. If you prefer an eco-friendly wine, look for vegan wines made with mineral-based fining agents like activated charcoal or bentonite, a type of clay.

If you’re still confused, ask a sommelier or wine store professional about wine and its sustainability. A store might be selling bottles or cans that are sustainable or vegan. Alternatively, you can ask for local alternatives to an imported favorite.

Industry buyers and restaurants exist to meet the demands of the consumer. As more people express an interest in sustainability, savvy business owners will find a way to meet that demand. They might also make a note of sustainably farmed wines on shelf-talkers or use symbols on wine lists to identify better options for you.

And if you don’t see sustainable notations at your local wine shop or favorite bar, let management know so they can make some eco-friendly changes.

Sources:

EcoWatch.com

VinePair.com

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