The carbon footprint of wine

I recently tasted the intense, fruit-forward Tikal, Amorio, 2005 (about $30; find this wine). Along with notes of dark berries, tobacco and toast, was there also a whiff of petroleum?

The wine’s oversized bottle complemented the flavor profile perfectly since the bottle weighed about as much empty as a regular bottle full. I pity the wine store clerk who has to lift a case of it.

tikalmap The heavy bottle took a long, meandering route to get to me in New York City. Starting out at the winery in Mendoza, Argentina, the wine’s American importer trucked it over the Andes to the port of San Antonio in Chile. There it loaded a boat and went to Oakland, CA. From there it came across country by truck to me in New York.

That’s a lot of carbon used to bring me this bottle of vino. But is it too much? At least the heavy bottle didn’t come by plane, which would have really jacked the petroleum per ounce of wine.

I was intrigued to read in the SF Chronicle that several restaurants have stopped serving (imported) bottled water because it is deemed too carbon inefficient.

Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma prompted many eaters to think about the “carbon footprint” of their food and consider locally produced foods. Does that translate for you to your wine consumption?

The key issue for me is ease of substitution. I may be able to get water from local sources, but I can’t get any malbec locally. A tough call. Perhaps any eco guilt could be assuaged by buying carbon offsets?

Related:
“Local tap water bubbles up in restaurants” [SF Chronicle]
“Carbon neutral is hip, but is it green?” [NYT]

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19 Responses to “The carbon footprint of wine”


  1. Oy! That’s quite a whiff of petroleum, especially the trucked-across-America part. Out of curiosity, how did you determine the shipping methods and route?

    I think wine is definitely the final frontier when it comes to eating responsibly. Not only is wine just getting to the point where organic and biodynamic producers aren’t too afraid of negative stereotypes to list their eco-friendly practices on the label, but it’s something we all take for granted that we should be able to enjoy whatever we like whenever we want. While I drink wine with dinner every night, I am not very sophisticated in my tastes. I therefore can afford to forsake the untold pleasures of wineries in Europe and South America in favor of drinking only wines from California, where I live. The state offers plenty of variety and deliciousness for an amateur palate like mine. I was recently in Michigan, which has a burgeoning wine industry, but I think most of the grapes are brought in as I can’t believe they can grow Cabernet there in addition to the obscure varietals I also tasted. As more and more states develop wine industries, those of us who not so long ago were drinking Two-Buck Chuck (don’t snort!) can drink locally regularly and save the petroleum-laden stuff for special occasions.

    If I were more of an oenophile, one with a newly awakened conscience, I would at least try to stick to wines that have true terroir and all that it implies, including sustainability. That way, your dollars vote for preserving something worthwhile.

    I’m really glad to see someone like you writing about this — keep up the great work!


  2. [...] a boat and went to Oakland, CA. From there it came across country by truck to me in New York. Dr Vino File under Miscellaneous.     [...]


  3. Thanks for your comments, Bonnie!

    I actually spoke with the importer, Vine Connections of Sausalito, to determine the route.

    Green wine, the final frontier–great stuff!


  4. [...] Notes of natural gas: Tracing the carbon footprint of a bottle of Tikal, Amorio, 2005 as it traveled from Argentina to New York, minus the petroleum that went into its production. (Dr Vino) [...]


  5. This has been on my mind of late, especially in the shadow of the Pennywise event. Like many people, and certainly most people in the food blogosphere, I am deeply interested in eating local. But I do not think this is a black-and-white issue. There are products that have reached culinary heights that could never have existed if they had to rely on a strictly local market. Case in point, I recently had the opportunity to taste some small-batch sherries, not yet available in the US, that would make you weep. If they, and all other sherry producers, had to rely solely on the demand from southwestern Spain and southern Portugal, surely there would be very few producers, and little incentive for the quality to improve.

    Wine in the generic is somewhat different. While I occasionally enjoy wines from other parts of the world, I am fortunate to live in San Francisco, where some of the best wine in the world is produced well within a 100-mile radius, so the vast majority of my wine consumption is local. I don’t have to go beyond those boundaries. But again, even as wine-centric as folks are around here, our wine industry could never support the scale it currently does without casting a wider distribution net.


  6. re: “… was there also a whiff of petroleum?”

    This is a whole different perspective on _gout de petrol_! :-)

    re: “I was intrigued to read in the SF Chronicle that several
    restaurants have stopped serving (imported) bottled water because it
    is deemed too carbon inefficient.”

    Still, considering that bottled water consumption seems to be growing
    much more explosively than wine consumption (see for example
    ), the carbon footprint of wine
    isn’t even on the radar screen. No sweat. A no-brainer.


  7. sorry — trying again: that should have been
    (see for example see for example
    http://swivel.com/graphs/show/8702323)


  8. Okay, so I was expecting the weight of the bottle (full), the mileage, and the actual calculation of the carbon used to get it to you.

    Instead, we learn that a heavy bottle went from Mendoza to San Antonio to Oakland to New York. Yep.

    But wait, here’s my constructive point – Why not change the duty on alcohol to the weight of the bottle (with liquid)? This would discourage cheap wines from having heavy bottles. Yes, I know, I score mega Wile E. Coyote Green-Wino pts here.


  9. I’m glad this has sparked a good discussion!

    Lucky you Sean living nearby a good wine region. But you make a good point about certain items having reached a level of quality elsewhere, making them not easily substitutable, as with the sherry you mention.

    Rich- funny re: gout de petrol…And great graph! By the looks of it, eliminating bottled water would be a great carbon offset for wine drinkers!

    And Jack, my researchers are standing by with green visors and calculators awaiting your suggestions on how to compute the carbon load.


  10. Interesting post,

    You may want to consider a few other things when calculating a “carbon footprint” though.
    The first thing I can think of is the grape production process including tractors, maybe sprays, manual labor, bird netting etc,
    Secondly, the wine production process
    Thirdly, the packaging considerations. How far bottles, corks paper products may have been shipped plus the production impacts.

    It could be that wines from the other side of the world have a smaller footprint than local ones in some circumstances.


  11. Hi Paul,

    Yes, clearly that work in the vineyard is important too in calculating the carbon footprint of wine. In fact, I sort of took it for granted since I often talk about “green wine” here. But nobody talks about such seemingly tedious things as logistics and transportation, which may actually leave a larger carbon footprint than vineyard activity.

    Best,


  12. Exactly right, but it applies to the winery and vineyard too. Think about refrigeration lighting pumping etc of course this would depend on how the power is produced. In the vineyard there is the issue of tractors vs manual labor. I suppose that you then have to take into account the relative carbon footprint of the workers?

    Also with bottles you need to consider that some new world wineries are using European bottles which have to be shipped to the winery.

    It all gets very complicated very fast.

    Cheers


  13. And don’t forget importing the French oak barrels!


  14. [...] last week’s posting about the carbon footprint of wine, I intentionally just focused on the often overlooked and carbon-intensive distribution aspects. [...]


  15. [...] the discussion of the carbon footprint of wine here last week, I floated the idea of purchasing carbon offsets to assuage carbon guilt. In case I [...]


  16. As a burgeoning environmental lawyer living in Portland, Oregon, I have both a sense of responsibility about my carbon footprint and ready access to some of (in my opinion) the finest Pinot on the planet. This makes it relatively easy to avoid long-distance consumption, as does our local agriculture in regards to other food products.

    Carbon footprint is a sexy topic these days. A lot of people I know drive hybrid cars (or ride bikes) but buy wine (and food, for that matter) from Europe on a regular basis. I drive a pickup truck and drink mostly Oregon Pinot.

    My point is this: one’s “footprint” is a matter of balance, and a single flight from NY to Portland will likely emit more carbon than all the wine I can drink in a lifetime. So consume locally if you can (like myself and other lucky posters), and try to mitigate your impact in other ways if you can’t (such as by not drinking bottled water). We can all go off and live like monks if we wish, and save the planet in the process – but even monks have wine.


  17. [...] at Dr Vino there has been much discussion of carbon neutrality, off-sets and the [...]


  18. [...] “Shipping wine from Australia in bulk reduces CO2 emissions by 164g for each 75cl bottle, or approximately 40% when compared to bottling at source,” they write. They continue to say that 10,584 liters of bottled wine fits in one container versus 25,000 liters of wine in a bulk tank. (but did they count for the bottles making a round trip?) [...]


  19. The transport of the heavy bottle is only one factor. The energy cost of making a bottle for every 750ml of wine consumed is another. There are alternatives, for example refillable wine bottles which have quite significant cost and environmental advantages.
    In Australia at least there is a hefty tax on wine (29% + 10% GST). Depending on where the wine is bottled the tax also applies to the packaging. My friends at ReWine exploit this in their refillable bottle system.


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