The United Nations defines climate change as long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns.
Grapes are extremely susceptible to alterations in temperature. Climate determines where vineyards can be planted; the grape variety, and the resulting style. As temperatures increase, wine styles are also changing. Excessive heat, prolonged frosts, fires, drought, and flooding are extreme weather events provoked by climate change negatively impacting the wine industry.
In Portugal, extreme heat and dry conditions contributed to intense forest fires resulting in smoke taint damaging grapes. In Canada’s Niagara Peninsula harvests were lost due to an extended cold snap.
However, the wine industry is not just affected by climate change, it also contributes to it.
While some producers are working to mitigate their effect on climate change, as Miguel Torres of Familia Torres states: “[w]e have to reduce our emissions drastically and doing a ‘little’ better is not enough. Sometimes I have the impression that people don’t realise how serious the problem really is.”
The challenge of packaging
International Wineries for Climate Action estimates 40% of the wine industry’s carbon footprint results from the packaging and shipping of bottles ending up on your dinner table. With 30 billion bottles of wine produced every year according to the International Organisation of Vine and Wine, change is needed and can be made through actions by producers, retailers and consumers.
Top wine writers, including Jancis Robinson MW, have been noting the bottle weight in their reviews for years. Not only informing consumers, but importantly “encouraging” producers to rethink their unnecessarily heavy bottles.
Despite what many believe, bottle weight has no correlation with wine quality. Lighter bottles and alternative packaging do not indicate poorer quality wine. Indeed, many top producers are using lighter bottles and alternative packaging, intentionally reducing their carbon footprint.
Large alcohol monopolies such as Sweden’s Systembolaget and Canada’s Liquor Control Board of Ontario, the largest purchaser of alcohol in the world, have imposed bottle weight restrictions and encourage alternative packaging. This puts further pressure on the industry to reduce its carbon footprint. Hopefully, other retailers will follow suit.
As consumers, we also need to change our perceptions around packaging. When buying your next bottle, pick up several different bottles. You should immediately notice the lighter bottles. At the same time, you will see recognized producers using alternative packaging. The idea of showing up to a dinner party with bag-in-box or a plastic bottle, may not be the picture of sophistication often associated with wine, but challenge yourself to try those options and judge the quality for yourself. Undoubtedly, your alternatively packaged wine will make for great dinner conversation.
I wonder if the dinner parties accompanying COP27 are serving wine in alternative packaging, bag-in-a-box perhaps, cans maybe?
Photo by Kym Ellis