Four Steps A Scientist Says Wineries Can Take To Shrink Carbon Footprint

Interested in the impact of winemaking on the environment?

Dr. Mark Falinski of Finch, a company that aims to help simplify sustainability, said winemaking wasn’t in and of itself particularly tough on the environment, but suggested wineries could take steps in other areas to become greener.

“When it comes to decreasing the climate impacts of each bottle of wine, depending on which study you look at, only about 11-12% of the carbon footprint of any wine actually comes from making the wine itself — crushing, bottling, and letting the wine mature,” Falinski said. “According to one study, bottling wine makes up a plurality of the carbon footprint (33%), while energy from fermentation and the actual process of grape growing both take up a larger share of the carbon footprint than energy in other stages of production.”

Falinski offered four steps wineries looking to reduce their carbon footprint can take:

Make canned wine or bag-in-box wine instead of bottled wine: “Bag-in-box packaging has an embodied carbon footprint that is three to five times smaller per drink than that of glass bottles, while cans are lighter, easier to transport (which lowers emissions from transportation), and require far less energy during production than glass bottles, making them also the more climate-friendly choice than bottles,” Falinski explained. “Additionally, using bottles of lighter/thinner glass, or reusing bottles (which is significantly more climate-friendly than recycling them) are sure-fire ways to decrease the wine’s carbon footprint, even if it won’t decrease it by as much as switching packaging altogether.”

Make more red wines: “While both tend to have the same carbon footprint, producing white wine leads to higher levels of raw material depletion and contributes nearly three times as many pollutants towards eutrophication. Producing only red wine isn’t necessarily the answer, but this is something worth keeping in mind,” Falinski said. 

Eutrophication is the process by which nutrients found in manure, like nitrogen and phosphorus, are used to grow grapes and then get carried away by rain, groundwater, or in other forms of agricultural runoff. 

“When they enter water systems, they can contribute to algal blooms” which can choke off oxygen supply for fish, leach toxic compounds into drinking water, or shut down beaches and waterfront properties,” Falinski said. “In fact, if you have ever gone to the beach and got turned away due to high levels of algae, eutrophication was the cause.”

He said limiting eutrophication during grape growing is one of the most important steps towards sustainability, even if customers may not know much about it. 

“Doing so protects local watersheds so wineries can continue accessing them, and responsible nutrient loading on plants can also save resources and money over time,” Falinski said. 

Go organic: “Organic wine usually has a carbon footprint that is 11% lower than more conventional wine, so going through with USDA Organic certification may be worth it in the long run,” Falinski suggested.

Reusing non-potable water: “Reutilizing grey water (wastewater that is not contaminated by fecal matter, but may be contaminated from the winemaking process) or greenwater (water from rainfall) in your tasting room bathrooms is a good reuse solution, and can save water in the long run,” he said. “Additionally, capturing greenwater as a way to water grape fields is significantly more environmentally friendly that pulling drinking water off the water grid and using that. 

“For this, I suggest a rooftop or fieldside collection vessel for green water, and an irrigation system that pulls from that collection unit, such that drinking water resources can be saved for drinking.”

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