Dumb Wine Questions - Sustainability
We all need to be kinder to the planet, wine makers, producers, sellers, and drinkers included. Wine sounds like the perfect eco-friendly product, grapes, sun, bit of glass, but it’s not quite the case. There are parts of the ‘on the vine’ to ‘glass of wine’ process that aren’t as good as you might think. In this edition of Dumb Wine Questions, we explain how wine is and isn’t sustainable, and what you can do to help.
What is a sustainable wine?
This is the gold standard for eco-friendly wine. A sustainable wine isn’t about what is in the bottle per se. The quality, contents and flavours aren’t compromised, but the process that the producer uses is environmentally friendly. This hasn’t always been easy for winemakers. It takes a lot of land, time and water to make grapes, and then you must turn the grapes into wine and ship them around the world.
Modern wine producers are embracing the need for environmentally friendly practices. This isn’t just a moral choice – wine is heavily dependent on the climate, so changes to it can devastate whole vineyards. More often now you’ll find producers are turning to smarter farming practices, offsetting their carbon footprint and finding better ways to ship wine. Hurrah!
What makes a wine organic?
Organic simply means that no additives were included in the grape growing process. It’s hard to make grapes grow, and there are lots of things that like to eat them when they do. To stop this, farmers might use a range of pesticides and fungicides to protect their vines.
A wine that is listed as organic must be certified as organic, which is quite a difficult and lengthy process, so you’ll find a lot of wines aren’t certified organic, but are sustainably grown, without the certification. The taste and quality of an organic wine is no different from a non-organic wine. It’s really a question of how you feel about modern farming techniques.
Pro tip – organic means different things to US and European wine makers. If you see organic on a European bottle then the grapes are organic, but sulphites might be added. In the USA, organic means grapes and no sulphites.
Why is all wine not vegan?
It’s just grapes isn’t it? Well, often yes, but sometimes no. While all that goes into the fermentation tanks is grapes and yeast, what comes out isn’t always what you’d like to drink. Wine often finishes fermentation a little cloudy, which is perfectly good to drink, but not what people think looks great in the glass, so producers find ways to remove this cloudiness. This is called fining and filtration. There are many ways to do this, and some use egg whites or milk proteins or an enzyme found in fish bladders.
These products are removed from the wine after it’s all clear and ready to drink, but it means that the bottle isn’t vegan.
There are some fining agents that are vegan friendly though and these are becoming more popular.
What is natural wine?
Natural wine is the most eco-friendly style of wine making. Nothing is added in the growing of the grapes, making them organic, and no fining agents are used either, making them vegan. It’s called natural wine because it’s wine that is created with minimal intervention. This lack of intervention can impact the quality of the wine though, and the price. The lack of additives mean that some nasty particles can get through, making the wine a little bitter in some cases. In order to make clear wines, the bottles have to be slowly and carefully looked after so that all the cloud-causing particles can be syphoned off. This adds time to the process, which increases the bottle price.
How can I make my wine drinking more sustainable?
Making your wine drinking more sustainable isn’t as daunting a challenge as it might seem. There are lots of things you can do, and here are our top tips:
- Buy sustainable – whether it’s organic, sustainable or vegan and vegetarian wines, they all have less impact on the environment. Sustainable wines are becoming more and more popular, so you don’t have to go to the darkest corners of the wine website (or shelf) to find great bottles.
- Buy quality – a cheaper bottle of wine is mass produced, and economic. This has an impact on the sustainability of the wine, as each process is about efficiency and getting the bottle to your table faster. This raises the environmental impact of the farming, winemaking and the shipping. It also doesn’t taste nearly as good as a good quality bottle.
- Think about your shipping – because wine is sold in cases of 6 or 12, when you order 7 bottles, your shipping becomes more expensive for very little benefit. If you want to get the most for your delivery, order 6 or 12 bottles. It reduces packaging waste, and makes sure you only need one delivery, rather than multiple trips for smaller orders.