As the effects of climate change become an increasingly clear and present danger in our day-to-day lives and pose an existential threat to future wine production, many producers and wine lovers are eager to create and support eco-friendly wineries and wines.
However, it’s no small feat. Almost half of a wine’s carbon footprint comes from the production and packaging of wine, according to Sustainable Wine Growing Alliance. But what impact does the actual winery have on the environment? While it might be easy to overlook, a winery’s construction and day-to-day operations are important factors in how “green” a wine actually is.
Here, we share ways winemakers are taking on the challenge to create greener wines—in the vineyard and in the cellar.
Sourcing Local Eco-Friendly Materials
Building an eco-friendly winery with materials and labor sourced from afar defeats the spirit of the exercise, says Christophe Landry. He sourced as much as he could locally when constructing his winery, Chateau des Graviers, at Clos Dufourg in Bordeaux. According to the International Energy Agency, construction is responsible for 39% of annual greenhouse gasses globally in 2018. Manufacturing building materials contributed to 11% of that. And since some of those emissions come from transportation, sourcing local materials can also help lower one’s carbon footprint.
“The winery is made in part with 600 bales of straw purchased from a farmer about 25 miles from the winery,” says Landry, explaining the straw is then compressed to make a low-carbon wall-building material. “We also used stones, sand and clay sourced locally. For the wood, we took pieces of oak wood that our barrel maker couldn’t use.” These locally sourced materials also provide ideal insulation, explains Landry.
Chateau des Graviers isn’t the only winery constructed with eco-friendly materials sourced close to home. Champagne Palmer in Bezannes, France, was built with more sustainable materials like tile in lieu of plastic, which is produced from petrol. The operation also only partnered with suppliers 30 miles or closer whenever possible, says Remi Vervier, the winery’s CEO and chief winemaker.
Along with sourcing local materials, Chateau des Graviers utilized a workforce of “22 and 30 local people to help us build the winery, with the number fluctuating depending on the day,” explains Landry, adding that many were students. “We fed them three meals, and if they needed lodging, we also provided that.”
Finding Alternatives to Concrete
Finding green building materials is no easy task and concrete in particular has a major negative environmental impact. The production of concrete is responsible for an estimated 8% or more of global carbon emissions, according to Nature.
To address the issue, Remy Drabkin, founder and winemaker of Remy Wines, and John Mead, founder of Vesuvian Forge, partnered with Bioforcetech in San Francisco and Lafarge Labs in Seattle to create a carbon-neutral concrete dubbed the Drabkin-Mead Formulation.
The carbon-neutral formula substitutes biochar, a substance made from carbonized organic waste (including manure and wood chips), for the non-eco-friendly black pigment and sand commonly found in concrete.
In August, Drabkin and Mead supervised the pouring of the foundation using their Drabkin-Mead concrete for Remy Wines’ new 5,000-square-foot facility in Dayton, Oregon. They are also going to make the formula available to others, in a bid to create greener construction projects across all industries.
“Because of concrete’s broad usage, any efforts to reduce its embodied footprint is beneficial,” says Abena Darden, a senior associate at Thornton Tomasetti, an engineering consulting firm focusing on sustainable construction and building projects around the world. “Reduction efforts can create a ripple effect, and when manufacturers lower the carbon footprint of their concrete, reductions can happen at scale.”
Concrete is the most universally consumed material in the world, second only to water, according to an academic appraisal and analysis published in Science Direct. It’s used two times more than any other construction material combined, so finding a more environmentally sound way to produce it could potentially have wide-ranging impacts well beyond wine, according to Darden.
“My ultimate goal is to help municipalities adapt design codes for greener construction,” says Drabkin, who also happens to be McMinnville, Oregon’s mayor. “Our process for creating the biochar is part of a closed-loop system as well. We accounted for carbon emissions during the production process and the impact of using trucks to transport the concrete. We are not just neutralizing the carbon, we are actively sequestering it.” In addition to using carbon-neutral concrete, Drabkin is utilizing upcycled and recycled materials.
Utilizing Solar Energy
At Cantina Endrizzi in Italy’s Trentino-Alto Adige, the cellar was constructed in the 19th century. When it was time for a facelift in 2000, CEO Paolo Endici and Managing Partner Christine Endrici opted to do it with sustainability in mind, says Lisa Maria Enrici, the winery’s export manager.
“We made sure that everything was below ground level to maintain a constant temperature, we installed a grass roof on the new portion of the cellar to naturally insulate it and we installed solar panels to take care of our energy,” says Endrici. They have 86 panels, covering the vast majority of the winery’s energy. In 2023, they will expand their solar array to ensure all the energy they consume is produced at the winery.
Other wineries are aiming to harness solar power as well. “Our next step is installing solar panels so that we can supply all of our own energy,” says Vervier, adding that they hope to begin that project in 2023.
But how does solar power help reduce a winery’s carbon footprint?
“Using solar power at a winery enables them to not only lower their carbon footprint significantly but also export clean green electricity to the grid and offset carbon and pollution from other emitters, like fossil fuel plants,” says Joshua M. Pearce, Ph.D., a professor in materials engineering at Western University in Canada. “This is a growing movement in India, Europe and the U.S., and can not only benefit the environment but improve the economic value of farms. Once implemented, solar is the lowest cost source of electricity in most places in the world.”
Wineries are also looking beyond solar panels to harness the sun’s energy.
For instance, Chateau des Graviers is constructed in a way to avoid relying on outside cooling and heating options. Instead, the architects placed the windows in such a way as to optimize where the sun is in the sky given the season. So, in the winter, more sun shines into the winery for warmth, and vice versa in the summer.
Ferrari Trento also aims to utilize the sun, with its new energy-efficient addition to the winery that’s currently under construction.
“It is adjacent to our current winery, and we are building it underground to eliminate outside warehousing and reduce energy consumption through transportation, and because it is underground, that will also naturally reduce energy use during production,” says Camilla Lunelli, head of communications and sustainability at Ferrari. “The facades of the buildings are isolated from the sun’s rays which keeps it cool during the summer but allows heat to penetrate indoors during the winter.”
Wineries Tapping Earth’s Other Inherent Resources
Winemakers are dependent on Mother Nature in the field, so it makes sense that many are finding ways to use the rhythms of the earth to their advantage in their production facilities, too.
Wineries like Abadía Retuerta in Valladolid, Spain, are not just utilizing the energy of the sun to fuel their operations, but gravity, as well. Constructed in 1996, “the plan was always to create a sustainable winery,” says Managing Director Enrique Valero. “We built it underground to keep the temperatures down, used a gravity-powered system that didn’t require electric pumps and put in solar panels so that a third of the energy used is clean.”
Along with gravity, wineries are also finding new ways to harness available resources.
“When we designed our new winery, everything was constructed with the goal of leveraging the earth’s natural slope and light to our advantage,” says Vervier. In addition, water is recycled and purified through plant roots to remove contaminants. The winery was opened in 2019 and received The High Environmental Quality certification, or Haute Valeur Environmentale, which is regulated by the French Ministry of Agriculture and encourages eco-friendly practices at vineyards.
“Wineries are energy-intensive buildings, once you factor in all of the processes loads from crush through fermentation, through barrel storage and conditioning,” says Darden. “At each step, wineries are consuming energy.”
Going green comes in many shades and forms in the wine industry, and it’s time we start thinking beyond the content of the glass.