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.