There are many reasons for implementing sustainable practices in a wine operation:

Peer pressure: In the case of New Zealand sustainability, participation in the industry sustainability program was a prerequisite to receiving the marketing support of the association. Wines of Chile, the industry association, has an expectation that the vast majority of wineries there will participate in their sustainability code for wine.

The retailer hurdle: Concerned about their “sustainable” reputation, or while implementing their own CSR policy, retailers frequently play the role of “curator” for consumer purchases. A decade ago, it was rare for consumers to take notice of terms such as organic, biodynamic, sustainability, carbon-neutral or “wine miles,” but their concern in this regard is increasing. Retail chains in Europe, UK and North America are increasingly demanding purpose-made plans to show wineries’ commitment to environmentally friendly approaches, sometimes without specific criteria. Wine retailer Systembolaget of Sweden and liquor monopolies in Canada – LCBO in Ontario and SAQ in Quebec – have very specific sustainability requirements as part of their procurement process.

Family ownership and succession: Wineries are motivated toward sustainability because they have received an inheritance from prior generations and want to maintain the land and the productivity of the business for future generations. Some wineries are proceeding with sustainable practices, even if no differentiation advantage is manifest. The Lodi (California) Winegrape Commission states that the top motivation for grape growers to participate in sustainable efforts is “to preserve the family’s agricultural legacy and to pass that legacy along to future generations.”4 Sustainability practices are part and parcel of how cultural capital is passed from one generation to the next.

 The business case: Research has been mixed on whether consumers are willing to pay more for eco-labeled wines, yet certain demographic groups, such as millennials and LOHAS Consumers, seek sustainably produced wines when they shop. For those customers certification and a bottle seal makes for a good marketing story.

Like other industries, adopting sustainable strategies actually can allow vintners to realize cost savings, reporting waste reduction and improved operational efficiencies. Some in the industry believe that sustainable farming can result in a more complex and interesting wine – that better grape quality can be achieved through a more holistic and deeper understanding of the vineyard agro-ecosystem. If the wine tastes better, the reward is in the marketplace.

Personal values: Some viticulturists express a deep personal connection with the land and a feeling of personal obligation to take care of the vine, to protect it from disease and to ensure its long-term health. Others have a profound respect for natural habitats and the role such natural spaces play in preserving biodiversity and air quality.

Community and land use: These concerns are among the most serious of the wine industry’s issues, when neighbors and communities worry about the impact of a vineyard’s operations on the local habitats and species, water supply and water quality and the impact of organic waste.

The wine industry in the US has been the target of local communities who complain about overuse of available tracts of land or the establishment of too many wineries in a given area.  In France spraying of chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers has been the focus f protests and lawsuits.

So how has the industry addressed these concerns to implement sustainability in the wine industry?

Nearly every step of the winemaking process involves water, and sustainable wineries must be diligent in conserving their use of water. By sustainably obtaining, using, reusing and discharging water, wineries can increase their commitment to the environment. Farmers that practice sustainable farming may enhance the moisture levels of their vineyard soil (and thus, reduce the need for irrigation) by mulching, applying composts or planting cover crops. Mulch and compost help retain water, and slowly leach it into the soil. Cover crops are planted in the vineyard to reduce the impact of natural rainfall on the vineyard soil. Instead of rain falling directly on dirt, the cover crops help buffer the falling rain, allowing it to drip down the plant into the soil.

By using energy-efficient appliances and procedures (and continuing to audit energy use) wineries can significantly reduce their carbon footprint. For example, several wineries in California (like Trefethen, Domaine Carneros, and Chateau Montelena) have installed solar panels and other energy saving devices, which have been subsidized by the state or county government as part of their energy cost reduction efforts. In New Zealand there is a major groundswell among vineyards to reduce fossil fuel and electricity use. Even though New Zealand draws most of its electricity from renewable sources (water and wind), the rising cost of electricity together with the high energy demands of wine production means the industry focuses on energy as a major sustainability factor, throughout New Zealand’s 10 wine-making regions.

An impressive example is New Zealand’s Mission Estate, which since 2007 has crushed 1000 tons of grapes, and bottled over 80,000 cases of wine annually. However, the winery’s power usage is similar to that of only four domestic homes. For every liter of wine produced, the power usage is an incredibly low 0.13 KWh. All of Missions’ tanks are housed internally, providing considerable energy savings. Unlike most wineries that run on high-powered refrigeration glycol systems all year round, Mission Estate has installed two separate systems – a large, high-powered system to be used during the busy six weeks of harvest, and a smaller, more efficient system to be used during normal operations.

From a sustainability perspective, there is a close connection between distribution and packaging. Responsible wineries measure CO2 emissions generated by glass production as well as the weight of glass in transport of wine to its market. Many producers are opting for lighter-weight bottles, which saves cost as well as being more environmentally friendly. In 2008, Fetzer Vineyards (one of the largest wineries in the U.S.) transitioned all of their wine bottles to lightweight bottles. This change is estimated to have reduced glass usage by 16%, and carbon emissions by 14%. The Province of Ontario, Canada has taken it one step further by setting a maximum weight for glass wine bottles. As of January 1, 2013 producers are limited to producing wine that is packaged in lightweight, environmentally friendly bottles.

Other producers have opted to bottle some of their wine brands in PET (plastic) bottles to further reduce carbon emissions associated with shipping glass. Backsberg Estate Cellars, the first carbon-neutral winery in South Africa, packages their Tread Lightly Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc varietals in PET bottles. Another great example comes from Yealands Family Wines in New Zealand. Their Peter Yealands line of wines is packaged in sustainable, shatterproof PET bottles.

Many restaurants and bars are starting to serve wines from kegs, as they have found them to be a sustainable alternative to offering wines by the glass. Kegs release much less CO2 both in manufacture and in transport than wine in bottles. However, the other important aspect is waste: kegs result in little to no waste generation because most are repurposed or recycled, whereas bottle delivery systems result in approximately 1545 lbs. of waste material per 1000 liters of wine delivered, despite recycling efforts. A keg holds the equivalent of 26 bottles of wine, and each keg that goes into distribution will save 2,340 lbs. of trash from the landfill over its lifetime.

In addition to tangible resource management, sustainable wineries also dedicate time to educating their community of consumers, producers, and vendors about their sustainable practices. These wine producers are also committed to social responsibility and giving back to their communities, both local and around the world.

This includes fair treatment and worker safety, ensuring proper use of pesticides and adequate protections for working in the vineyard. Wineries support community needs and social concerns, as well as efforts to prevent underage drinking, drinking responsibly and in moderation.

“Beer is made by men, wine by God.”
– Martin Luther