The wine industry’s environmental challenges, and how to solve them

The wine industry’s environmental challenges

As with any agricultural or production process, growing grapes and making wine has an impact on the environment. From water use to pest management and packaging, the wine industry is increasingly adopting practices to ensure a more sustainable future.

With the California wine community emerging as one of the global leaders in sustainable winegrowing, we asked Allison Jordan, Vice President Environmental Affairs for Wine Institute and Executive Director of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, about the practices that can reduce the environmental impact of winemaking around the world.

1. Water use

While wine grapes require less water than most crops, water is a precious, limited resource that needs to be managed wisely. This problem is prevalent in California, where a drought has caused water shortages for the last four years.

“Most California vineyards use drip irrigation, a highly efficient watering method that conserves by supplying vines with just the right amount of water and in the right location to help focus energy into producing grape clusters, not excess vegetation,” explains Jordan.

Tools for measuring and monitoring water needs allow growers to apply water efficiently and only when necessary.

2. Energy efficiency

Energy is expensive and if sourced from fossil fuels, causes greenhouse gas emissions. In a bid to reduce carbon footprint and cut costs, California winegrowers have adopted a number of energy-saving practices.

These include harvesting grapes at night and in the very early morning, which keeps the fruit cooler, reducing the need for energy-intensive refrigeration; investing in more energy-efficient pumps, as well as flow meters to track water use; and installing solar panels to provide power for motors, drives, irrigation pumps and other equipment.

3. Pest management

Pests are a fact of life in vineyards, but Allison Jordan says there are biological and cultural control alternatives that cause minimal environmental impact.

“Winegrowers may want to consider actively introducing beneficial insects, such as predatory mites, spiders, wasps or ladybirds, into their vineyards to help control the population of harmful insects. Erecting nesting boxes attracts predatory owls that prey on moles and gophers that cause root damage, and even chickens control cutworms in the vineyards,” she says.

4. Fertilizers

Using fertilizers and soil amendments – products that are added to the soil to improve plant growth and health – to maintain soil quality can be harmful to the environment and costly too.

“Fertilizers are not always necessary and we encourage winegrowers to make informed decisions about whether to apply fertilizers and soil amendments based on correctly interpreted soil and plant lab test results,” says Jordan, adding that natural soil amendment alternatives include manure or organic matter from compost – which can be made from pomace and lees, both of which are by-products of the winemaking process.

5. Transportation

Many different forms of transportation are used in winemaking and deliveries, both to and from and within the vineyard or winery. Transportation causes emissions from fossil fuels and greenhouse gases arising from the transport of glass bottles.

Jordan explains that biodiesel-powered farm equipment and electric-powered vehicles can be used to minimise fossil fuel use.

“There’s also a growing trend towards the use of lower weight glass bottles and alternative packaging to reduce weight and greenhouse gas emissions while still maintaining wine quality,” she adds.

6. Packaging

Packaging choices can have a significant impact on the environment. For example, carton packages are 100 percent recyclable and offer a far lower carbon footprint than other packaging alternatives.

However, as Allison Jordan points out, packaging decisions are not only up to the wineries but often dictated by market and consumer preferences.

“What wineries can do is set sustainability criteria for their suppliers, requiring packaging suppliers to incorporate recycled or post-consumer content and vendors to take back unused excess supplies,” she says, adding that many wineries already use soy-based inks and unbleached, chlorine-free cardboard for shipping boxes.

About Allison Jordan

Allison Jordan is Vice President, Environmental Affairs for Wine Institute, a public policy association of nearly 1,000 California wineries and affiliated businesses. She also serves as Executive Director of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, a non-governmental organization incorporated in 2003 by Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers to promote environmental and social responsibility in the state’s wine industry. Jordan represents Wine Institute on the National Grape & Wine Initiative board of directors and the California Environmental Dialogue.

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