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(10/7/2010)  Are Eco-Friendly Wineries Missing a Green Opportunity?

By: Sue Rose, Nutrition & LOHAS Trainer

Red wine and chocolate connoisseurs
were understandably enthusiastic when the authorities broadcast what we knew all along: red wine and dark chocolate are good for you! As if we needed another excuse to consume them, we stocked up on our favorite varietals and (according to a reliable source) didn’t feel the least bit guilty.

As a nutrition and lifestyle trainer, I tell my clients that it doesn’t matter where they are on the continuum—what is important is that they take the next step toward whatever the goal they have set for themselves.

Similarly, for many consumers, living a sustainable lifestyle is a lengthy process that happens one step at a time. “Kicking it up a notch” for some wine lovers may mean supporting wineries that don’t use pesticides—and for others, wineries must go much further. There are several other opportunities wineries have to up their green game; among them:
• Corks vs aluminum screw-off caps
• Bottles that are thinner and alternative wine containers such as Tetrapak
• Labels from recycled paper and printed with non-toxic inks
• Shipping Containers made from reclaimed recyclable material
• Sustainable farming and production
• Renewable energy sources
• Support of local farmers
According to Erich Brandt, Senior VP of Sales and Marketing for ACH Foam Technologies, wineries on the green radar need to take a second look at the containers their wine bottles are shipped in. “Most of the critics who are rating wineries for eco-friendliness of shipping containers are only looking at the container the wine is poured into,” said Brandt. “They’ve either forgotten about the carbon footprint of shipping containers and transit, or they feel it’s too complicated to figure out,” he said.

Jean Charles Boisset, owner of DeLoach vineyards said, “The vast majority of the environmental impact of wine comes from the production and disposal of the packaging and from shipping the heavy merchandise around the world.”1

Greenopia.com is an online directory that rates products for greenness. It uses a pretty comprehensive set of criteria to help people make socially and environmentally conscious purchasing decisions. Carbon footprint, land and water use, and recyclability are a few. “When I looked at how Greenopia rated wineries for packaging,” Brandt explained, “I found that the wine container itself was evaluated, but often the shipping containers were overlooked.”

According to Brandt, EPS (expanded polystyrene) is proving to be a sound material choice for shipping containers, especially when the products being shipped require thermal and impact protection. While corrugated cardboard containers have been considered by some to be the greenest method of shipping wines by the case, they degrade and weigh twice as much as EPS, which translates into more gas used in transit. What we used to call “Styrofoam”, once thought to have a negative impact on the environment, is gaining popularity over corrugated cardboard by some eco-conscious companies.

For example, Sanofi Pasteur is using EPS shippers for its pharmaceutical vaccines for this reason. According to an article published in Packaging World magazine in March, 2010, Bill Tarabek, Director, U.S. Distribution for Sanofi Pasteur said, “EPS is not environmentally unfriendly—it’s just the opposite. Unlike other material such as paper, EPS does not degrade and will not leach any substances into groundwater, nor will it form harmful gases,” he added2. Expanded polystyrene is 100-percent recyclable.

Upping the EPS game even further, ACH Foam Technologies has become the first EPS maker to produce a wine shipping container that contains EcoSix, 60% recycled molding beads. Their WineLoc EPS wine shipping containers use recycled beads that are made of at least 60% reclaimed foam from product that has been diverted from the nation’s landfills. The EcoSix molding bead recently received the Green Cross certification for its 60% recycled content by independent testing laboratory, Scientific Certification Systems.

In addition to the 60% recycled component, ACH’s Brandt explained that the high performance protection of expanded polystyrene reduces supply chain waste of goods broken or damaged during shipping and handling. EPS also has superior insulating qualities that protect fine wines during transit.

WineLoc EPS wine shipping containers are projected to reduce material introduced into the supply chain by total actual weight of 240,000 pounds annually. In addition to its superior protection against bottle breakage and temperature changes in transit, WineLoc EPS containers offset millions of gallons of gas and emissions because EPS is so lightweight. EPS weighs half as much as comparable coated paperboard products.

Wineries competing for the LOHAS (Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability) market would do well to follow Sanofi Pasteur’s exemplary EPS “take back” program. Since January 2008, Sanofi Pasteur has offered its U.S. customers a prepaid mail-back recycling program that works through a partnership with the Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers (www.epspackaging.org). AFPR was founded in 1991 to develop an industry-based collection infrastructure for EPS packaging, and it’s catching on. According to the AFPR, 34.6 million pounds of post-consumer EPS were recycled in 2008, up from 25 million pounds in 2004.

When you take a look at arguments for and against the things we associate with a good wine; such as bottles vs boxes, and corks vs screw caps, it can be difficult not to get caught up in a bit of wine snobbery. Many will confess the aesthetics of popping a cork and pouring from an attractive, well-weighted glass bottle that fits in your hand is all part and parcel of their enjoyment of wine, myself included.

One has to make a judgment between conflicting arguments for and against cork as a wine stopper. It’s a stretch for some of us to feel the same about aluminum screw-off caps. DeLoach vineyards claims that cork failure ruins 1 to 3 percent of wine produced, so they use the aluminum screw caps. Other sources estimate cork failure at 5 to 10%. Contrast the upside of less spoiled wine with the upside to cork as a renewable resource, and the choice becomes difficult, especially without some metrics to go on.

In defense of real cork, the World Wildlife Federation says that cork oak forests rank among the top biodiversity hotspots in the Mediterranean and in Europe. They are asking people to choose wines with cork stoppers to help the environment. Harvesting cork bark is an age-old practice that keeps the world’s relatively small population of cork oak trees alive. They shelter a wide array of biodiversity including the Iberian lynx, the Barbary deer and the Egyptian mongoose, as well as rare birds such as the Imperial Iberian eagle and the black stork. As wine producers switch to other sources for wine stoppers, many of the plants and animals that depend on cork trees could die out.

Wine snobs are further tested with the more eco-friendly Tetrapak wine boxes used by DeLoach vineyards, which claims that it takes 28 more trucks to deliver the same volume of bottled wine as that packaged in its cardboard boxes. Some connoisseurs just can’t seem to warm up to wine that comes from a box. However, a growing number of green wine enthusiasts are willing to go with the lighter, more eco-friendly wine boxes.
A possible compromise may be in the shape and thickness of glass wine bottles. Alma Rosa is sticking with glass bottles, but making them a bit thinner to reduce shipping and related wastes. This winery is also going to one uniform size and shaped bottle for all of its varietals to reduce bottle manufacturing waste.

Perhaps more impressive than any one green attribute is the designation, “carbon neutral”. In 2007, Parducci became the first US carbon neutral winery. The term indicates that a business removes as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as it puts out. What does Parducci do to be carbon neutral? According to Paul Dolan, partner and winemaker at Parducci, the winery management considers every one of its practices to deliver a net zero carbon footprint (details in listing below).

Here’s a list of wineries that are making considerable efforts to go green, based on websites such as greenopia.com, greenbiz.com, and various other online resources:
• Parducci and Paul Dolan vineyards, now known as the Mendocino Wine Company, went carbon neutral in 2007—the first US winery to do so. All of Parducci’s energy comes from renewable sources. They also recycle 100% of the water used in the winery, creating streams and waterfalls that re-oxygenate themselves naturally as well as creating wetland habitats for wildlife. All paper used is recycled and unbleached, and inks are either soy or water-based. Parducci’s tractors run on biodiesel.

• Honig Vineyards has been solar powered since 2006. They use biodiesel in their tractors, sniffer dogs to detect mealy bugs to prevent the need for broad spraying of pesticides, place bat houses and bluebird boxes along the vineyard perimeter and encourage owls and hawks to keep down the rodent population.

• Alma Rosa vineyards is certified organic and practices other sustainable farming methods such as water conservation and bio-control techniques. Alma Rosa uses the same shape bottle mold for all wines (regardless of varietal) which cuts down on waste in the bottle production process. The winery itself is made using principles of green building design including the use of local, recycled materials.

• French Rabbit, an organic wine from DeLoach vineyards, has some of the greenest packaging in the industry (the TetraPak). It also practices biodynamic farming techniques, which avoid the usage of hazardous chemicals during growth and also treat the landscape like an ecosystem as opposed to a farm.

• Frog’s Leap wines are organic, and also dry farmed, which means that they don’t require the huge amounts of water that many vineyards use. Frog’s Leap operates a LEED certified building on its property and uses solar energy. Frog’s Leap also uses natural corks for its wines.

• Benziger has a variety of green wines including organic, sustainably grown, and biodynamic. Benziger has incorporated some elements of green building design in its facilities, including solar power. Its wines are bottled with natural cork. They’ve also light weighted their glass bottles and added some recycled content.
In the end, each of us has to choose how we can up our game. Just like changing our eating or exercise habits, we need to find that place where we are stretched, yet not so uncomfortable we can’t sustain the change.

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1Anna Clark, “Green Wineries Embrace Innovation from the Fields to the Bottle”, GreenBiz.com blog (July 27, 2009).

2Jim Butschli, “EPS containers deliver for Sanofi Pasteur’s vaccine shipments”, Packaging World (March, 2010).


Sue Rose is owner of High Vital Body, a nutrition and lifestyle training practice in Denver.  High Vital Body offers individuals and companies a step-by-step approach leading to sustainable well being in an engaging, playful context. Sue also owns Rose Public Relations, helping green manufacturers communicate to their public. www.highvitalbody.com; www.suerosepr.com.