The wine industry, in general, is extraordinarily concerned with its impacts on the environment. We want our vineyards to improve with age and global climate change is altering the growing regions of today, and tomorrow. Only recently have we as a society become more concerned with, and able to quantify, our impacts on the environment. Wines and Vines recently published an article on the environmental impact of wine as studied by Emma Point in her Master of Environmental Studies Thesis: Life Cycle Environmental Impacts of Wine Production and Consumption in Nova Scotia, Canada. When considering bicycle delivery as a shipping option we knew it would be both more economical and more environmental than standard shipping options. We didn't realize that it could also address one of the top environmental impacts of wine! I had to learn more and Emma was kind enough to provide me with a copy of her Thesis which I thoroughly enjoyed reading.
Life Cycle Analysis LCA is a method of quantifying the environmental impact of our actions. LCA considers the full cycle of wine: from raw material extraction for the bottle, winegrowing, winemaking, transportation, consumption and finally disposal (or re-use) of the packaging. Also considered are energy inputs, waste, and emissions during entire life-cycle of the wine. As one can imagine, there are a plethora of inputs, and the validity of an LCA analysis relies upon inclusion on the most important factors. For this particular analysis there were a few exclusions that I should point out: water in the winery and vineyard (although not true for all of the vineyards we source fruit from, we do use drip-tape in our Boulder vineyard to control and minimize water usage), use of traditional Oak Barrels (we use French Oak Barrels, which require transport by sea and land), alternative power (we use wind power), cleaning products (we use an environmentally friendly biodegradable cleaner), and use of grapes from outside of the local region (we use 100% Colorado Grapes).
Specifically, Emma explains that the life-cycle impact analysis LCIA is comprised of: abiotic resource depletion potential (ARDP - extraction of minerals and fossil fuels), acidification potential (AP – emissions of acidifying substances to the air), eutrophication potential (EP – emission of nutrients to air, water, and soil), global warming potential (GWP – emissions of green house gasses to the air), stratospheric ozone depletion potential (ODP – emission of ozone depleting gasses to the air), aquatic ecotoxicity potential (AETP – fresh water emission of toxic substances), terrestrial eco-toxicity potential (TETP – emission of toxic substances to air, water, soil), photo-oxidant formation potential (POP – emission of CO and VOC to air), and cumulative energy demand (CED – direct and indirect consumption of energy). Through life cycle impact analysis it turns out that grape growing, bottle manufacture, and consumer transport of wine are by the top 3, in order of importance, impacts of wine on the environment.
In grape-growing there are two dominating factors. The first is emissions associated with application of synthetic and organic fertilizers. Taking a more biodynamic approach and using fertilizers produced on the farm (or locally) could reduce this impact. In our experimental Boulder vineyard, we fertilize by returning the pomace (grape skins and seeds) to the vineyard (pomace from our other vineyard sources are provided to a local recycle center for composting). Second is the leaching of toxic chemicals to the soils where treated wood is used. Using steel posts or un-treated wood in the vineyard can mitigate this concern (we use un-treated redwood posts in our Boulder Vineyard; on a larger scale steel posts may offer a more economical option).
The glass bottle is the next largest environmental impact of wine. One could consider non-glass options, however, due to the plastic involved in most of these alternatives I don't consider it an option for our wines. Lighter glass bottles use less raw materials and require less energy to produce, and thus can provide a significant energy savings (4-23%) in manufacture (we are investigating a new lightweight bottle for our 2008 red wines). Using recycled glass also saves on both raw materials and energy to produce. In a recent podcast Chris Scott's UK Wine Show covered wine bottle recycling (#158 and #159) and reported that each 10% recycled content used in a glass bottle saves 3% in energy (in addition to the raw materials). Perhaps even better would be re-use of bottles (our '80304' wine uses exclusively re-used bottles).
In Emma's study the third largest impact of wine turns out to be one the consumer has the most control over, that being, how the wine is purchased. Driving 3 miles to pick up a bottle of wine results in the third largest environmental impact of a bottle of wine (7-65% of a wines total environmental impact). Considering abiotic resource depletion, global warming potential, and cumulative energy demand driving 3 miles results in an environmental impact greater than winegrowing and winemaking combined. As Emma Point explains best: “Drinking locally produced wine may offer important environmental benefits over wine produced far from its place of consumption”. Buying local is also good for your local economy. If you want to reduce your footprint next time you purchase wine, consider walking or biking to your local wine shop, enjoy some local wine, and if you are in Boulder place an on-line order for Settembre Cellars wines with the bicycle delivery option.