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Friday, December 17, 2010

How green are wineries?

Lots of wineries talk about sustainable farming practices, solar projects, underground storage and all.   And that's great!   "Green" runs from stewardship of the land, chemicals used in winemaking, how you keep your cellar cool, the wine container, to shipping materials.

Drip irrigation
It seems there are a some areas that still need work:
  • Water. The biggest wine-producing states, California and Oregon, have limited water supplies.   As always with agriculture there's a battle between ever-growing populations and farming.   The Central Valley of California is notorious for over-use of water used in growing your fruits, nuts and vegetables.  Vines almost always require irrigation and stuff in the winery needs to be cleaned, but there should be a way to minimize the usage and use more recycled water.   The solution requires money, education and some government coordination.
  • Corks vs aluminum screw-off caps.  This debate will continue.  Cork is renewable--as long as you don't use it faster than you can grow it (like lumber).  Synthetic/plastic corks are definitely non-green.
      
  • Bottles that are thinner (but maybe more likely to break?) and alternative wine containers such as Tetrapak can help reduce what goes to the dump.  Some wine bottles get recycled, but most go into the trash heap.  The beer and soda industries do a better job of recycling, but that took the government to get things started.  The Tetrapak is made of recyclable paper, plastic and aluminum though it isn't good for longer-term storage.  Reusable stainless "canteens" are another possibility however the logistics of getting them back to the wineries is an issue.
      
  • Wine labels can be made from recycled paper and printed with non-toxic inks.
      
  • Shipping containers are available from reclaimed recyclable material.  Yes, Styrofoam is a better insulator than cardboard.  It's made from petroleum, is flammable, and a carcinogen.  Cardboard takes a couple months to decompose.  It's estimated that Styrofoam can take over one million years when buried in a landfill.  Think about that.
      
  • Sustainable farming and production.  There's lots of talk about organic and biodynamic farming and winemaking.  There's less talk about all the chemicals used around the winery.
      
  • Renewable energy sources. Everything in the winemaking process from crushing the grapes to bottling the wine uses energy, primarily electricity.  Cooling the air and the tanks plus hot water used for cleaning are probably the main consumers of energy.   The trend toward solar installations and overall concern for their carbon footprint is taking hold in the wine industry.