Wine list: Just how environmentally friendly is wine?

Sustainability has been a buzz word in the wine world for decades but just how environmentally friendly is wine? Grape growing is a monoculture and just as Spring barley growers spray for weeds and aphids, so vignerons use herbicides, fungicides and pesticides. Viticulture represents 3% of agricultural land in France and uses more than 20% of the pesticides. France is by no means unusual in this but at least their government is taking action and under the new Haute Valeur Environnementale (HVE) certification scheme aiming to reduce pesticide spraying by 50% by 2025.

Organic farming represents 3% of the world’s viticulture while Europe boasts 8% with Austria leading the way at 15%. If a producer does go organic they should get better grapes but they will also suffer a yield loss of up to 30% — not all producers can afford to take the risk.

It is only in the last 100 years that it became commonplace to transport wine in bottles rather than in cask. Recycled glass is not practical for bottling lines as breakage can be up to 5% (according to one winemaker I spoke to) so we we will have to open our minds to other packaging solutions. I recommend a delicious wine below in a bag and you can expect to see wine in cans on shelves in the near future (eg, Broc Cellars).

The other good news is there is significant momentum in the wine world to increase biodiversity in vineyards and reduce the reliance on spraying. Horses are replacing tractors, pheromone traps and predator species are replacing aphid sprays and water use is being reduced.

One Irish importer deserves praise for sustainability and that is WineLab who have developed kegs for transporting and selling wine through the On and Off-Trade (www.wineontap.ie). Managing director Ronan Farrell says each of his 20 litre kegs replaces 16kg of glass plus all labelling and packing material and he will soon have a closed loop recycling scheme where the kegs are returned to the manufacturer to be reused. Some of WineLab’s growers have made themselves viable again thanks to the technology. Stocca in Friuli (see below) now package 50% of their wine in keg and are exporting them all globally. May is also Real Wine Month so watch out for tastings in your local wine bar or shop.

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