The Dream of Low Emission Wine

You can’t turn your head these days without catching sight of some new effort to build sustainability, greenness, and environmental consciousness into just about everything. As a Northern California hippie child and card carrying Sierra Club, Greenpeace, World Wildlife Federation, and Natural Resources Defense Council member, I couldn’t be happier about it. I have to chuckle though at the speed with which business has seen the opportunity to turn green practices into PR and profit (once they finally realized it was good for both).

The wine industry is on the same bandwagon, of course, with some wineries making the leap to solar power, and many striving to reduce their “carbon footprint,” or the amount of carbon they put into the environment. The latter, of course, being particularly relevant to the pressing issue of global warming.

While wineries and other businesses are working hard to figure out how to operate sustainably, consumers are being faced with choices about how they live, and perhaps more importantly, how they buy, with an eye towards reducing their impact on the environment.

This is not as easy as it sounds. For any simple product that we purchase there is a huge, complex chain of resources, actions, processes, and relationships that have brought that product to the shelf in front of us. Trying to calculate the carbon footprint of a particular bottle of wine, for instance, is a nearly impossible task.

But that didn’t stop Tyler Colman, who runs the blog Dr. Vino. Colman, a writer and professor spent some time trying to figure it out, and wrote a very interesting post about it a couple of weeks ago. Among his findings are that, depending on where you live, buying New York wine may be better for the environment than buying California wine.

I’m not sure Colman and his collaborators have taken into account ALL the complexities of what goes into wine (as some commenters on the post have noted, the impacts of whether the wine is shipped in Styrofoam or in refrigerated trucks or ships can have a huge impact on the carbon footprint) but it’s an interesting exercise nonetheless.

In the following days, Colman even offered to try to calculate the footprint of a particular bottle of French wine purchased in Berkeley, California.

If you’re at all interested in the environmental impact of your wine habit, the posts are worth checking out, if only as food for thought. The problem with all these calculations are, of course, that if we really wanted to save the environment, we’d all just grow our own grapes, make our own wine, not bottle it at all, and simply pour some out of the cask into our homemade earthenware mugs every time we wanted a drink. Sigh.