These days, Californians are well-accustomed to the ins and outs of “living green.” Your plastic silverware better be made from potatoes, and shame on you if you’re not driving a hybrid vehicle. If you aren’t living or supporting green, you may be chastised by the very city government in which you live and certainly by the yuppies standing in bio-friendly yogurt shops. But how does wine fit into the equation? Is wine sustainable or not?
The answer is, “Theoretically, yes, but in today’s world, probably not.” Wine is naturally natural―grapes are grown, and when they are picked and sit in their juices for a long time, they ferment and turn into wine. But with any agricultural process, it can become unnatural along the way. Fertilizers, soil depletion and disease can strip the vines and land of its ability to produce in the future and ruin its surrounding ecosystem. Furthermore, the production effects wine can have on energy use and its carbon footprint, such as through its bottling and transportation methods, are also contributing to the pollution problem.
To the rescue is a rapidly growing sustainable wine industry that is being embraced in California and beyond as the next best “living green” trait. But what does sustainable wine mean, exactly?
Sustainable wine is any grape-growing, wine-making, or distribution method that adopts practices to protect against harmful effects on the soils, pollution, loss of biodiversity and other ecological issues. (Don’t be confused with “organic” wines, which source its wines from organic grapes but may not necessarily be applying sustainable wine practices to them.)
Some sustainable wine industry practices include using only natural fertilizers, never using preservatives in wine, and packaging in eco-friendly ways that reduce the carbon footprint. It takes a more thoughtful approach and comprehensive analysis by viticulturalists and winemakers to see how their production methods are affecting the environment. It’s a gut check, if you will, and commitment by them to make small or large changes to collectively help relieve the pressure the planet is feeling on resource depletion.
A closer look: wine on tap
Let’s take a look into one of the latest sustainable wine industry practices: wine on tap, which focuses on reducing energy consumption and the carbon footprint through alternative packaging. The wines are made like any wine is made—with love, passion, sweat, tears and unwavering commitment. After the barreling stage, instead of corking it, you keg it. The wine is transferred from the barrel directly into stainless steel kegs. A simple pull of the tap handle unleashes a delicate stream of pure, enological bliss.
[Photo: Wine kegs]
Because there are no corks and bottles, the carbon footprint is drastically reduced due to the decrease in packaging resources and its overall shipping weight. Furthermore, there is less wine waste as well. Because wine in the bottle can only stay fresh for a number of days after opening (if you’re lucky), restaurants and bars that serve wines by the glass experience waste ─ up to 25 percent of their wine-by-the-glass inventory. Because wine on tap is never exposed to oxidation until it is served, spoilage is virtually impossible, and it can stay good in the keg up to one year.
While there will forever be a cherished place for the cork and bottle, wine on tap is an innovative and responsible decision to reduce environmental waste, ultimately cutting production costs, increasing profits, and providing an always-fresh and community-enriched experience for the consumer.
Where to find
Finding sustainable wines is like any wine relationship—you find it through research, talking with others, and being part of the community. San Francisco has a slew of bars and restaurants supporting sustainable wine practices, such as Jamber Wine Pub and Fat Angel. N2 Wines, which sources from Napa Valley and abroad for its wines on tap, is an excellent producer. New York-based Indie Wineries, focusing on sustainable Italian imports, is another player in the field. And, there are many others. A great resource for discovering more about sustainable wines is the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance.
By paying a little closer attention to the juice you choose, living green and loving wine can be one and the same. Research, commitment and community demand are all it really takes. And with that, cheers to the growing sustainable wine industry for a happier planet, happier producer, and happier wine drinker.
Lauren Barnard is based in San Francisco and is the owner of Taproot Wines, a sustainable wine company.