Sustainability is paramount in every industry these days and many winemakers are moving toward organic and regenerative farming practices, conserving water, and using solar energy and biochar in the vineyards. But what happens after the grapes are grown and the wine is bottled? Reducing your carbon footprint is just as important when it comes to distribution and shipping. How you dispose of waste and what you do with land that isn’t under vine also matter.
Use Lighter Weight Bottles
Reducing glass weight is an easy and impactful switch to make. Transporting 25,000 cases of wine from the Douro Valley of Northern Portugal to the United States certainly creates a hefty carbon footprint. When Symington Family Estates shifted to recycled glass bottles that are 36% lighter in 2022, this single action offset 15 percent of emissions involved in transportation.
Wente Vineyards also recently transitioned their entire wine portfolio to lightweight glass. “We completed a GHG audit in early 2022 that revealed our largest area for improvement was in packaging,” says Aly Wente, fifth generation winegrower and vice president of marketing and customer experience. Like many other materials, glass costs have increased, so the move to lighter bottles is driven by both carbon savings and cost savings. “The biggest difference in lightweight glass is the size of the punt,” Wente says. “This is an easy area to reduce the weight and material needed for the mold while maintaining the shape and style consumers love.”
Keg Your Wines
O’Neill Vintners and Distillers, the largest B Corp Certified winery in North America, is in the early phase of testing lighter glass bottles with Gallo Glass. But, in the meantime, they are working with premium wine tap company Free Flow to keg some of their most popular wines, including Day Owl, Harken, Robert Hall, Line 39, and Rabble. Free Flow estimates that O’Neill has saved nearly 1.5 million glass bottles from landfills since beginning their partnership in 2013 by filling more than 57,000 kegs of wine. Plus, Free Flow estimates that switching from glass bottles to reusable steel kegs can reduce overall carbon emissions by more than three quarters.
Create Wildlife Sanctuaries
In response to the rapidly diminishing Western monarch butterfly population, Jordan Winery created native plant habitats for native and monarch butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds in partnership with the non-profit Pollinator Partnership. The Jordan Estate is now home to eight acres of pollinator sanctuaries comprising 3,400 plants from 100 species and 200 pounds of wildflower seeds scattered throughout the land. According to Pollinator Partnership, Jordan is the largest dedicated pollinator habitat of all Bee Friendly Farming-certified vineyards nationwide.
As a sweet bonus, guests visiting Jordan can enjoy estate honey in most tasting experiences too. Many different animal species also live harmoniously throughout Jordan’s estate, including black-tailed rabbits, herons, Canadian geese, deer, coyote, turkeys, hawks, ducks, and more. Golden and bald eagles have also been spotted on property.
Swap Out Styrofoam
Benchmark Wine Group, which has a hand in all levels of the three-tier system with its retailer, importing, and distribution licenses, has swapped styrofoam inserts for molded fiber lay-down trays made out of compressed pulp for the majority of their shipments at their Washington D.C. location. “We’re finding that they’re just as strong and secure as styrofoam,” says Benchmark CEO David Parker. “The trays take up much less space to store, have a much smaller carbon footprint, and they’re about 25% less expensive.” Parker says that they will always need some styrofoam available for certain bottle shapes, but anticipates expanding their molded fiber pilot program to Napa operations later this year.
Coterie Winery in San Jose also eschews styrofoam in favor of 100% recyclable and 100% biodegradable cardboard shippers by WineShield from Golden West Packaging for shipping to 36 states. “They arrive at the winery in stacks with a smaller overall shipping footprint, so they require some assembly,” says founder Kyle Loudon. “This is just fine with us because the smaller stacking footprint has efficiency benefits too.”
Treat Your Own Wastewater
Most wineries require six gallons of water to produce one gallon of wine but Rombauer Vineyards is using almost two-thirds less water with strategies like cleaning the lines and hoses using the ‘pigging’ method, a process in which a rubber plug (‘pig’) is pushed through with nitrogen instead of water to remove juice and wine, and then sanitizing the line with steam instead of hot water to further limit their water usage. Plus, Rombauer is treating all of their wastewater on-site, thanks to their Cambrian EcoVolt MBR membrane bioreactor, a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment system that also eliminates greenhouse gas emissions associated with trucking dirty water off-site for disposal.
Romabuer’s Engineering and Environmental Compliance Manager Eric Fitz says the multi-million dollar investment in 2018 was worth it. “We are now able to produce more wine at our facility,” he says. “And we are working towards closing the loop so we can actually reuse the water that we have treated.” This would provide Rombauer with another source of water in times of drought when water is limited.
O’Neill Vintners and Distillers also treats their own wastewater, using the largest worm-powered winery wastewater system in the world. This BioFiltro system can filter up to 80 million gallons of wastewater a year that is then converted to nutrient-dense worm castings to improve soil health.
Refrigerated Ground Transportation
Benchmark is among the largest buyers of private wine collections in the country, so transportation is one of their biggest costs of doing business after labor and wine. With rising fuel costs, Benchmark is turning to refrigerated ground transportation rather than air freight to cut costs and carbon emissions. Shipping wine across the country using refrigerated trucks helps keep a wine at a consistent cool temperature. This method takes longer, but saves a lot of fuel and money, and requires far less packaging material. According to Parker, the condition of the wine is equally secure if not more secure with ground transportation compared to air transport. “Collectors are most concerned that their wine is in perfect condition the whole way,” he says. Usually they’re happy to wait an extra few days to safely receive it.
Likewise, Spottswoode Winery works with Vine Vault for refrigerated wine shipments, which assistant winemaker and environmental manager Molly Burroughs says is nearly six times more efficient from a carbon emissions perspective. “We’d like to be able to work with them for most of our domestic shipments,” Burroughs says. She oversees annual audits of Spottswoode’s carbon emissions as part of the winery’s IWCA membership and, in the next decade, Spotstwoode aims to shift to 90% ground shipments.