Wine is like bottled poetry; yet our gods wouldn’t be very proud looking at the negative environmental impacts of our modern vineyards. After millions of tastings, uncorked bottles and sippings, now experts start to ask questions. Here’s what to look for when purchasing sustainable wine.
Environmentalists might love Ernest Hemingway, but they may not be too keen on his words about “wine being the most civilized thing.” Perhaps they’d change their mind if he added “sustainable.”
So, why do the world’s eco-activists seem to be up in arms over wine made in the usual or traditional ways? Why is sustainability in wine such a big deal? Before we dig in further, let’s first get a few things out of the way.
What is sustainable wine?
We first need to know what sustainable wine is. Wine that can be classified as “sustainable wine” is produced using practices that adhere to environmentally-conscious standards. For example, in California, sustainable wine should meet efficient water, energy, and nitrogen use requirements. In addition, there should also be a provision for greenhouse gas or GHG emissions monitoring.
Why should we change the typical ways of making wine when we’ve been using them for a while now? Let’s now delve into the “whys” of sustainability in wine.
With the global pandemic that has dramatically affected our lives, more and more people have realized the value of caring for the environment, of not tipping off the delicate balance between nature and human consumption. From simple waste recycling to the avoidance of single-use plastic, people can do much more to preserve the environment to achieve the long-term goal of decarbonization. We can protect our natural earth resources by choosing sustainable food practices. One way we can help out is by being intentional in incorporating sustainability when we shop for wine.
Whether you’re a classic wine connoisseur, a dopamine-chasing wine drinker, or simply an average Joe enjoying cheese nibbles with a glass or two, your choice of wine has far-reaching consequences. Your decision to support vineyards that employ sustainable agricultural practices, which avoid damaging natural resources while producing high-quality wines at the same time, can have a profound impact on the environment.
Here are a few good reasons why your favorite Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc should originate from ecologically sound vineyards.
1. It tastes better
It may seem self-indulgent to support habitat-friendly wine for the simple reason that sustainable wine tastes better. But labeling food “sustainable, “organic,” or “eco-friendly” doesn’t always appeal to the gustatory imagination of many consumers. Some may even have the impression that going for “green” also means having to compromise taste.
Yet that perception can be the furthest from reality. For example, in a UCLA study, wines certified as organic by third-party accreditation were rated as having higher quality and better taste by experts.
Why is sustainable wine so much more delectable to the palate? First, the wine produced through ecological means is given high-level TLC. Meticulous attention is given to nurturing the soil in which the grapevines are grown. Great effort is also exerted during the processing of biodynamic wines to do away with sulfites. Sulfites, which naturally occur in the fermentation process of both organically- or conventionally-grown grapes, serve as a powerful preservative. However, wine produced with sulfite has a particularly notorious “cooked egg taste.” Organic wine lovers who enjoy low-sulfite wine do not have to go through that unsavory experience.
And to cap it all off, there is hardly any difference in price points between organic and conventional wine. Now, that’s another one for the road!
2. It helps curb climate change through water conservation
Water is a dwindling resource. With droughts happening regularly, environmental advocates are paying serious attention to efforts that can help conserve water. Unfortunately, the traditional way of making wine does not support this cause.
The washing operations from grape harvesting, pressing, and fermentation result in vast amounts of winery wastewater. In fact, it takes all 75 gallons of water to grow the grapes needed to produce just one gallon of wine, according to the Wine Economist.
In sustainable grape cultivation, this water efficiency issue is addressed through the increased reusing of treated wastewater, resulting in low water supply costs. When you buy from an eco-certified vineyard, you can be sure that you’re making a significant impact on water conservation.
3. It helps prevent soil destruction
The constant sowing and tillage and the relentless harvesting of grapes can cause the structure of the soil to be disrupted, preventing the formation of organic matter that sustains the soil’s nutritional content and ensures a healthy ecosystem. As this robust natural balance is shaken, winegrowers use heavy pesticides to treat plant pests such as yeast and bacteria. When these microbes interact, they boost grape growth and development but also cause harmful substances to seep into the soil.
In sustainable vineyard grounds, different methods are used to make the soil fertile. Composting and recycling organic wastes nourish the soil while keeping it free of chemicals from pesticides and artificial fertilizers.
Continuous healthy soil flora and fauna create more stable dependence and interaction in the ground’s ecosystem. Not only does freedom from harmful chemicals benefit the soil, but it also means an enhanced quality of life for farmers and their communities.
4. It minimizes carbon footprint through sustainable packaging
Although die-hard wine connoisseurs may require the traditional heavy glass bottle, many sustainable wine-producing companies are gearing efforts towards more sustainable packaging.
Lighter wine bottles or a hybrid of a can and bottle called cottle (literally can plus bottle) is creating a buzz in the beverage industry. Cottles are lightweight (some are 25% lighter than conventional wine bottles), which means more items can be transported in one go. This impacts energy consumption—this time, in the transport sector.
With your increased awareness about wine sustainability, the next trip to your favorite wine shop may never be the same again. Your choice of red wine will show whether or not you wish to be a good steward of Mother Earth’s natural resources. Shall you make the decision to have a positive impact on people’s lives today and those of our future generations? Let’s toast to that!