How wine is affecting our planet

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With a growing awareness of the impact of high carbon emissions, winemakers are turning to more palatable alternatives than traditional wine bottles.

As a particularly heavy form of packaging, wine bottles are raising environmental concerns in the wine industry. Photo / Thinkstock
As a particularly heavy form of packaging, wine bottles are raising environmental concerns in the wine industry. Photo / Thinkstock

Pity the poor punter, who after paying $52,000 at a charitable auction for a bottle of the Prime Minister's wine label, dropped it on the way back to his car. Luckily, Mr Key replaced the victim of this expensive accident free of charge, but the future of the traditional wine bottle is under threat from more than just butterfingered wine buyers.

Wine has been in glass bottles since Roman times, gaining favour as it imparted no flavour to the product and proved suitable for long term storage. However, as a particularly heavy form of packaging, environmental concerns have increasingly made the wine industry take a second look at its impact, especially here in NZ where many of our wines are sent halfway around the world.

"Packaging is by far the most significant emission source in the lifecycle emissions of a wine product," explains Roger Kerrison of New Zealand wine industry sustainability consultants, Aura Sustainability. "If you took the worst case scenario of wine bottled in imported Grand Burgundy bottles in New Zealand which are then shipped to Britain, the packaging could contribute directly and indirectly to over 50 per cent of the footprint."

"Putting wine in lighter weight glass could shave around 15 per cent off the carbon of the product," he adds. This is something that's led New Zealand's main wine bottle manufacturer, O-I to develop new bottles that weigh in at up to 29 per cent less than their predecessors, while working on even lighter ones for the future.

Nelson organic winery Richmond Plains, has recently released a wine in New Zealand's lightest 750ml glass bottle. At 325g and just over 1kg when full, it weighs less than some other bottles do when they're empty. They're also 20mm shorter so more cases can fit into a container, using up fewer resources in their production and transportation and consequently reducing fossil fuels consumption significantly, says Richmond Plains' Lars Jensen.

"The lightest bottles we have been able to use previously were 40 per cent heavier," he explains. Even though these bottles were sourced from Italy, Jensen maintains they "really do make a big difference to the environment and across our business".

For those wishing to forsake glass entirely, there are a growing array of options now available. The humble cask has been around for years, and is far lighter than a bottle. However, it suffers from a limited shelf life, and even more so from image problems stemming from traditionally being filled with cheap wines. Similarly, Tetra Pak, which is used quite widely for wine in countries such as Argentina, Italy, and Spain, suffers from similarly negative associations.

A halfway house could be PET wine bottles, as pioneered in New Zealand by Yealands Estate. It released its Full Circle Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot in a PET bottle, which according to the winery's founder, Peter Yealands is 89 per cent lighter, generates 54 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions and uses 19 per cent less energy to produce than traditional 750ml glass bottles. It also appears to have negligible effects on wine quality, with Yealands citing as evidence the awards his PET packaged wines with their oxygen scavenging technology have been notching up at wine competitions.

In the UK, a paper wine bottle is even hitting its shelves this year. Weighing in at a waiflike 55g, this compostable bottle's carbon footprint is just 10 per cent of that of a glass one.

Over in the US, there's a trend in upscale bars and restaurants to serve wine out of keg similar to that for beer. While initially striking one as somewhat unrefined, as well as reducing packaging it results in zero waste and significantly reduces the carbon footprint when used for local wine in particular. It also keeps wine fresh under a blanket of argon or nitrogen for months, making it well suited for wines by the glass.

Just as wine drinkers overcame misgivings to embrace screwcaps, in this increasingly environmentally aware era, the time is ripe to keep an open mind about what we pour our wines from too.

CLEAR THINKING

LIGHT IN WEIGHT
Richmond Plains Nelson Monarch Rose 2011 $19.99
The contents of this super-light bottle is a super-fruity rose, which delivers a generous mouthful of strawberries seasoned with a hint of spice. (From Harvest Wholefoods, Grey Lynn; Ceres Organics, Ellerslie, Thirsty Liquor, Parua Bay.)

LIGHT IN TEXTURE
Brennan Gibbston Pinot Grigio 2010 $20
An attractive dry, light and fresh grigio style, with crisp green apple and citrus fruit, hints of honey and minerally finish. (From selected New Word stores and online.)

LIGHT IN PRICE
Haha Marlborough Pinot Noir 2010 $19.99
This Marlborough pinot noir offers amazing value for money with its soft and juicy spiced plum fruit, notes of milk chocolate and savoury undertone. (From Glengarry; The Food Store Market Square - Viaduct Harbour; Point Wines; Mairangi Bay Fine Wines; Advintage; New World Hastings; Village Wine Trader.)

- NZ Herald

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