The Ecological Footprint of a Wine Drinker

By Cathy Huyghe

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It's difficult in early April in Boston not to notice the weather. Or the sun. Or the warmth. Or, by extension, all the attention that’s paid to nature, the environment and sustainability — especially as the 40th anniversary of Earth Day draws near.

Which got me to thinking, what’s the ecological footprint of a wine drinker?

With so much talk these days about reducing carbon footprints, I’ve started a list of the wine industry’s carbon-related risks and opportunities. Here are a few, along with some thoughts on what they may mean for you.

    * Consider the distance a bottle of wine travels from the winery to your doorstep. In many wineries, you’ll notice palettes of empty glass bottles wrapped in plastic and stamped with the Saint-Gobain label; those bottles will be filled with the next vintage. Saint-Gobain is a manufacturer of much of the flat glass used to make wine bottles around the world. But they’re based in France and, given the less favorable conversion rate of dollar to Euro right now, glass from Saint-Gobain is becoming prohibitively expensive. So wineries are investigating cheaper options, such as importing glass from China — which means the bottles will have to travel even farther to get to your door.

    * Cork recycling is a growing practice throughout the US. Yemm & Hart Green Materials in Marquand, MO, for example collects corks and recycles them into other products including wine cork tiles. An organization called Korks 4 Kids, a division of Recycle Corks USA based in York, PA, collects corks and donates the proceeds to children’s charities. For a different twist on reusing your corks, Chuck Draghi, of Erbaluce and formerly of No. 9 Park in Boston, suggested adding corks to an oven (that’s less than 500 degrees) to give a woodsy aroma to roast chicken.

    * Consider whether the vineyards were farmed organically. Were they processed at an organic facility? Investigate wine lists, and ask sommeliers and shop owners for their recommendations of organic wine. Many wine shops set aside a section for “green” wines, and more and more restaurants feature lists of biodynamic and sustainably-farmed wines.

    * According to an article in the Quarterly Review of Wines, Spring 2008, Bonny Doon winery will start printing the full list of their wines’ ingredients on labels. Starting with the 2007 whites and 2006 reds, QRW wrote, the Santa Cruz producer’s wines will sport new back-labels detailing growing stratagems (e.g. biodynamic), added preservatives (e.g. sulfur dioxide), yeast types (e.g. indigenous or organic) and fining agents (e.g. Bentonite).

As awareness of organic farming has grown, so has the quality of those grapes. As technology for organic processing methods has advanced, so has the taste of the wine. That’s good news for wine drinkers and, more and more, for the environment as well.


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