Are we bottling our fight on carbon emissions?

When talking about wine, we take great pleasure in discussing the region, vintage, blend, pairing and like Yiannis Paraskevopoulos, who Joe met in series 2, often a particular vintner or Oenologist.

Where a wine comes from; the heritage of an estate, how a family harvests their grapes, the local terroir is all vital in the final product. However, during recent filming for The Wine Show, we also found ourselves looking at the production of the bottles, the energy it took to power equipment at the winery or the mode of transportation the juice takes once it leaves the vineyard. Now more than ever perhaps, the journey your wine takes is just as important as where it came from.

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For example, did you know that the production and shipping of a typical bottle of 75cl wine is estimated to release over 1kg of CO2 into the atmosphere? And in the UK, figures, which may make your eyes – or mouth- water, suggest we consume almost 2 billion bottles a year- around 108 per individual…

While the UK’s own wine industry is growing in reputation, let’s be clear, we are still the World’s second largest importer of wine. In 2018, we imported more than £3 billion’s worth of it. Just over £2 billion came from within the EU, and further £1.1 billion from non-EU regions.

Italy, with the continued popularity of Prosecco leads the way, with France a close second. Then Australia, Spain and New Zealand make up our top five favourite regions, which depending on your own cabinet you may have guessed.

There is much debate over which part of the process, from grape to glass and eventual disposal is the most damaging. In truth, all elements create some Carbon output. It starts with the raw materials, but generally, grapes don’t require the level of fertilisers other crops do so this doesn’t make up a significant percentage of their impact.

Next, the fermentation stage, which liberates CO2 in a different way to that which is produced from burning fossil fuels. Leaving out the woody parts of the vine, and removing any emissions from burning fossil fuels during the production and packing processes, the conversion from atmospheric CO2 to sugar and subsequently to alcohol and CO2 is pretty close to being a closed cycle – and thus relatively carbon neutral.

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However, what is apparent is that the high concentration of CO2 in the winery environment at fermentation time makes it a good opportunity for carbon capture and we have seen a few recent examples of Carbon Capture Processes (CCP) that transform the excess carbon dioxide created during fermentation. So while not essential it does the world a favour anyway.

But really, while we can look for more sustainable viticulture practices, use energy efficient equipment- to help with Carbon sequestrating- and avoid environmentally harsh chemicals, if we want to reduce the overall carbon footprint, when it comes to wine it’s what it is packaged in, rather than how the juice itself got there that has the biggest impact.

Almost half of the wine bottle’s carbon footprint comes from the production and choice of packaging – and 85% of that is from the glass bottle itself. Simply put, glass is much heavier than plastic and cannot be packed as tightly as boxes. So, because transport is always more energy intensive for a heavier vessel, it creates a much larger carbon footprint. Using glass accounts for 40% of the total weight of the product. And remember we bring the bottles in by the billions

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As the feel, weight and design of a bottle may be considered part of the romance when enjoying your favourite slurp, to move with the times, one may consider the benefits of reusing the receptacle – after a decent wash – as when used three times a glass bottle lowers its carbon footprint roughly to that of a single-use plastic beverage bottle. (looking at a six-use stat for total neutrality). Many of you will have seen that Waitrose has championed this practice across its stores at specially constructed wine refill stations where customers can reduce by reusing and refilling their own bottles.

The message is simple enough. As an industry we have a clear challenge to innovate if we are to march towards greater sustainability. With the need to address climate change becoming ever more urgent, the continued reliance on heavy glass containers to bottle and ship wine seems outdated. By finding a lighter weight bottle or focusing on alternative packaging we can stop bottling this fight and start to make a difference.

JOSE PIZARRO 16