Saturday, 2 June 2012

Eco-Friendly Wines

A while ago I wrote an article on Vegetarian Wines, which was very well received by vegetarians and carnivores alike. This seems to me to be indicative of a growing trend: if we can make things without causing harm, be it to other people, animals, or the planet, then we should aspire to do so.

Where wines are concerned, there are two main ways in which the ecological impact can be restricted: practices in the vineyard, and the combined effects of packaging and shipping. Viticulture (the posh word for grape growing) is of course where all wine making starts.

Will Lowe Blogtails Huia Vineyard New Zealand

Many people are already aware of an increasing number of wines which are achieving certified Organic status. Unfortunately, due to some curious complexities of the law, despite many wines being the produce of only organically grown grapes, they still cannot be certified as organic due to the addition of microscopic amounts of sulphites (around 0.01%), which are pretty much essential for the wine to remain drinkable once bottled.

Of course, the essence of the organic philosophy, at least as it pertains to wine, is to grow grapes without the use of pesticides, herbicides or any other synthetic chemicals. This is to protect the both the planet and the wine drinker from the possibly hazardous effects these chemicals may have. Many wine makers achieve this, even if they do not achieve the certification to prove it.

A less well known approach than organics, which operates along a similar vein, is that of biodynamics. This approach is a holistic take on grape growing –also seen in many other types of agriculture. At the tail end of last year, I was fortunate enough to visit James MacKenzie of Huia Vineyards in Marlborough, New Zealand. Huia operates on a biodynamic basis, and James explained the theory to me by saying that, loosely speaking, organic farming controls what you can’t do, whereas biodynamics tells you what you can.

Biodynamics, thought to be the most sustainable of all modern farming methods, is a holistic approach, encouraging the use of manures and composts to the exclusion of artificial chemicals. Just walking around the vineyard the differences were immediately obvious: rather than the regimented, sanitized rows of vines which have become the norm in the past 20 years, Huia’s vines look to be a part of their natural surroundings, with grass and other flowers growing tall between the vines. Whilst it is by no means easy, it can be done, and the resulting wines are superb.

Carbon is also a major issues for many winemakers (and consumers), and the combined issues of packaging and shipping can have a large impact here. The ‘carbon footprint’ of a bottle of wine can vary drastically, depending on (amongst other things) the size, shape and weight of the bottle, as well as the distance it has to travel.

 The U.K imports around 1.2 billion bottles a year, generating around 630,000 tonnes of glass waste, not to mention the carbon involved in transporting it here. With that number of bottles in circulation, just a few grams shaved off each bottle can make an enormous impact on the environment.

(Picture borrowed from Jancis Robinson's Blog)

Recent years have seen developments such as transporting wine here in bulk and bottling in the UK, which can save not only around 40% in CO2 emissions, but also a similar reduction in transportation costs, which are ultimately passed on to the consumer. Research has shown that this can be done with little or no impact to the wine itself, which makes it a great choice for the producer, the consumer, and the planet at large.

Whilst there some retain significant skepticism about UK bottled wines, when we consider the vast volume of bulk wines consumed in this country it is safe to say it would make no discernible difference. Seems a logical choice to me. What are your thoughts?

Footnote: If you're interested in making greener choices in your wine buying, check out Bibendum's award winning Vivid project.

1 comment:

  1. So that's what you were talking about when you mentioned people burying cow dung! All makes sense now... a bit!