Wine Talk

Snooth User: EMark

Carbon Dioxide in Wine Production

Posted by EMark, Jul 29, 2012.

I have a coffee shop buddy with whom I mostly talk about auto racing (he used to drive Formula Fords and Sports 2000s) who asked me an interesting question the other day that I am going to pass along.  Does wine production, mostly, I suspect, the fermentaiton process, create carbon dioxide?

It seems to me that it does, but is it significant?  I have never heard the industry being criticized for creating Carbon Dioxide.  (Thankfully, they do not use coal-fueled fermenters.)  I have never heard of U.S. wine industry inserting itself into our Carbon "Cap and Trade" controversy.  Today, however, I was visiting the local wine purveyor, and I picked up two bottles (one was Chilean and the other was Australian) that clearly indicated on their labels that they were "carbon neutral" enterprises.

Does anybody have any insights here?

Replies

41
3542
Reply by outthere, Jul 29, 2012.

Yep, fermentation gives off CO2. Call Greenpeace. This whole greenhouse gas emission thing is going way too far if you ask me. If. You didn't then disregard my statement. :-)

I bet I give off more CO2 than a winery does.

20
3162
Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 30, 2012.

Yes, fermenting wine gives off CO2, unless you trap it in the bottle (and the wine) in which case you have sparkling wine--even then the primary fermentation is going to give off CO2 (that's why the vapor locks on the barrels).  Baking bread and raising cattle (damn that methane!) do, too.  (Okay, GregT, I know that methane is not the same as CO2 and is actually a worse greenhouse gas--let me be the polymath this time, okay?) 

The actual issue isn't that normal dietary and natural processes give off CO2, since we cannot avoid those unless we go extinct--it's the unnecessary production of CO2 that's the issue.  Michael Pollan has said that a vegetarian with a Hummer has a smaller carbon footprint than a meat eater with a Prius--meat production using grain fed cattle blows wine out of the water, since it also blows driving out of the water.  Of course, growing vines for 100 years with deep roots also sequesters carbon, but compared to driving the tractors and shipping the bottles, wine is a net contributor to global CO2. (This article seems to say wine is good and sequesters carbon, (I don't buy it!) especially if the wine has high alcohol--Parker saves the world! This seems to indicate that 61% of the net carbon footprint is from the bottle!)

Many wineries are seeking to reduce their carbon footprint--Champagne makers have made it a priority to make the bottles less heavy, for instance. Others use solar power and wind to reduce their impact.  Clay Mauritson doesn't seek organic certification because it's less sustainable in CO2 and other terms to send tons of guys up to Rockpile to weed versus judicious use of Roundup.  (Cropdusting is another thing and not what he does--given that his family has worked that land for 140 years, I think he knows whereof he speak when he uses the term "sustainable.")

Much bigger issues--and they are huge, no doubt about it--are in how we generate power for home and especially industrial use and how we move ourselves and our goods from place to place.  Eat less meat (and only pastured, grass-fed meats--eat less, but better), buy mostly local, drive less (and in a more efficient car), and accept that some of what you do--wine-drinking, breathing, working-- produces CO2.  If you don't commute 50 miles a day or commute via public transit or carpool, have an extra glass of wine as your bonus.

20
3162
Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 30, 2012.

Coal fueled fermenters! I love the idea.  Talk about an point of entry for a discussion of "natural wine!"  Of course, the external energy used in fermenting is to cool the process, since the yeasts, natural or otherwise, cause heat production. 

0
3234
Reply by GregT, Jul 30, 2012.

Fox - so I come to mind when you talk about methane?  Cripes!

Reminds me of an episode of Sanford and Son where Fred was getting an award as junkyard operator of the year and people were honoring him at a dinner. Grady got up and talked about how much Fred had done for the industry and said, "When I think of Fred, I think of junk."

Emark raised an interesting question.  When people talk about "carbon neutral", I always assumed they were talking about energy consumption, storage, shipping, etc.  But the fermentation itself?  I don't know if that's part of the equation.  Interesting. 

I think it's correct that most of the carbon footprint comes from transport / shipping. Actually, according to NPR, until you're somewhere in Ohio, it's more efficient to drink wine from Europe than from California. So all the CA types who drink European wine are adding to the world's carbon footprint.  Reason being that the wine from Europe comes on huge ships in containers, whereas from CA it's trucked around the country, so the per bottle delivery cost is much lower from most of Europe.  But it's another good reason to abandon those huge stupid bottles favored by Turley, Pax, SQN and others. 

BTW - I think you'd have to throw cooling into the mix as well. If you store your wine in a cooled environment, like a wine cellar, that's got to be part of the equation.

In my perfect world, all wine would come in Bordeaux bottles.  I actually like the look of the Rhone bottles more, but they don't stack as well. And the cursing that ensues when they fall surely adds to the world's CO2.

Anyhow, regarding methane, turns out sheep are big producers.  I remember a few years ago when I first heard of that, I scratched my head.  I mean, yeah, I get it but when you have Russians and the Chinese with zero interest in protecting the planet, seems like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Both countries want to do oil drilling in the Arctic.  We're better than anyone and we can't pull it off without problems - witness the Gulf.  So sure, step right up boys. Start your engines.

But enough of a rant. Back to sheep:

http://phys.org/news178722388.html

762
3177
Reply by EMark, Jul 30, 2012.

Thank you for the discussion.  It has helped me quite a bit.

Fox, thank you for providing the link to the article.  That was very interesting.

Greg, the link about sheep burp suppression was, I suppose, also interesting.  When I read things like that, I rely on advice from on of my Algebra professors back in the last millenium:  "The truth is its own justification."

75
3235
Reply by JonDerry, Jul 30, 2012.

"Michael Pollan has said that a vegetarian with a Hummer has a smaller carbon footprint than a meat eater with a Prius."

I guess it depends on how far their commute is, but it underscores the point about raising cattle, who serve no purpose other than as food.

Also an interesting (guess?) that 61% of the net carbon footprint of wine production is the bottle, when the bottle is recyclable.

Being a CA type who drinks European wine, I wonder if I should move to Ohio or New York? I don't know, I figure those trucks are coming from NY to LA with or without me. Who's going to feed all this LA wine industry? Sometimes I think I'd like to retire in Europe somewhere, maybe this is just more of a reason to do it, and the earlier the better.

20
3162
Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 30, 2012.

No, GregT, you come to mind when I think of people who know more weird stuff than I do and will call me to task for speaking imprecisely. ;-)

JD, Pollan's point is (and I have served beef to Michael Pollan as I noted elsewhere) that "factory-farmed" beef, raised on grain (usu corn) grown just to feed them, raised in feedlots, and shipped long distances to market--require tons of inputs that emit CO2.  In fact, one big drawback to biofuels, especially from corn, is that corn monoculture uses lots of fossil fuels, so many that the impact of using corn to make biofuel may have a bigger CO2 footprint than conventional fuels. It matters only a tiny bit that you have a longer or shorter commute:  The meat you consume uses much more carbon based fuel and emits more CO2 than the car you drive.  Cars have gotten more efficient  but our digestion and that of other mammals hasn't. Nothing wrong with switching to a Prius and shortening your commute: it doesn't hurt to do all you can.  My wife and I have one car, put less than 10k on it, live close to my work or a transit line to my work (we have multiple offices).  My wife's office is 3 miles away.  We have a tiny, energy-efficient house.  But probably eating small amounts of meat and only eating pastured cattle (lucky us, we have a great ranch we buy from that's up near Mt. Shasta, and my friends buy from a ranch in W. Marin, even closer) is most important.  Still, the rest of the world cannot keep using energy like we have done for the last century, and neither can we. There are economic opportunities here as well--my sister markets detectors for moisture that agriculture, including wine, use to make better decisions about irrigating--pumping less water into the Central Valley and around the mountains saves energy as well as water.  Her employer does quite well by saving others energy.  

Changing those huge bottles is a good idea, for sure. (But only one shape? Next we'll be drinking from tumblers!)  Also, it's possible to ship wine unbottled in tankers and bottle it closer to the end point--that's an idea worth exploring by bigger wineries.  Local wineries are doing wine on tap.    Drinking locally is a good idea, but I'm a bit of a hypocrite:  I do drink European wines, probably 1/4 to 1/3 of my consumption.  But the rest of my wine comes from areas within a 50 mile radius, maybe 150 miles if you go down to Santa Lucia Highlands for my Roar PN. Maybe I could do more--I could also sit home and never travel, because flying has a huge CO2 footprint. 

Funny, I was just re-reading a set of private messages with GregT on this subject when the posting came along.  So I do think of methane when I think of GregT.

762
3177
Reply by EMark, Jul 30, 2012.

More from the wine marketing front.  I picked up a Paso Robles wine, today, that had "SIP / Certified / Sustainability in Practice" printed on the label.

I really shouldn't be so cynical.  The goal is truly good, but I still believe that a lot of it is marketing.  Cynicism towards sales and marketing is what happens after working with sales and marketing for almost 40 years.

0
3234
Reply by GregT, Jul 30, 2012.

Ah Emark - surely you don't think that anyone would jump on a bandwagon because it might goose sales?  I remember reading years ago in Advertising Age that it was clever to state something was "natural" because there wasn't a legal definition of the term, at least at the time.

762
3177
Reply by EMark, Jul 30, 2012.

OK, check this one out.

First of all, I am not the person on this board that drinks only esoteric wines.  I do have a reasonable cellar, but I am drinking low-dollar wines more often than not.  Today I opened up a Fetzer Cab.

Now, I respect Fetzer in that I know that they have been observing and promoting sustainablily for at least 20 if not 30 years.  So, they have cred.

Here are some things from the front label:

  • The Earth friendly winery  (TM) -- This one is trademarked.
  • Pioneers in sustainability
  • 14% less Carbon emissions
  • Solar Powered

From the back label:

  • The Earth friendly winery (TM) -- Just in case you forgot from the front
  • Fetzer now uses lighter glass bottles, runs the winery from mostly green energy, recycles, the list goes on... Enhancing our heritage of sustainability.

Like I say, I do have respect for Fetzer because their commitment is is long established.  I have to say, though, that all that verbiage on the label is hard core selling. 

20
3162
Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 31, 2012.

"I have to say, though, that all that verbiage on the label is hard core selling."

Truer words have never been written.  That goes for virtually all writing on the label and the pictures, too. Whether it's the romantic story, true or not, behind the winery, or the claim to be "solar powered"--hey, I don't turn on the heat on sunny winter days, does that make me solar powered?--hype in wine is endemic.  It must work on all of us, to some degree, or it wouldn't be so pervasive.  That's why I think everyone should taste wines blind if they want to know how much name and expense correlate to enjoyment. 

Who is this who only drinks esoteric wines, BTW? I'm on record that Mondavi made one of my all-time favorite wines.


 
762
3177
Reply by EMark, Jul 31, 2012.

Fox, I was probably hyperbolic in my comment about esoteric wine only drinkers.  Such people are out there, but I agree that on this board they are in the minority.  Most of the regular Snoothers are willing to try a wine--even from high volume or low-dollar producers--before judging it.  The fact of the matter is I participate on this board to learn about wine, which often translates to learning about new wines with which I have little or no familiarity.  I have to say esoteric wines fill that bill very nicely.

Also, yes, you are right in that almost everything on a label--verbiage, art, color, shape--is focussed on the sale.  The obvious exception to that are the legal compliance requirements.

75
3235
Reply by JonDerry, Jul 31, 2012.

Was kind of thinking the other day, about what I used to collect before wine, (music), and the industry I'm in (skin care). What's common to all 3 industry's is that there are countless producers all very similar in quality but it's really the marketing/branding and money behind these campaigns that make all the difference as far as what's popular with end consumers.

20
3162
Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 31, 2012.

Did not miss the legal compliance requirements when I was in Europe.  Refreshing to be in a place where wine is just part of the fabric of life and the words "chocolate cake" bring to mind "celebration" instead of guilt.

If I'm guilty of drinking primarily esoteric wines (am I unnecessarily assuming I was one of the people referenced?),  in mitigation I want to point out that my main interest (besides just a glass of good wine) is in trying something new.  Since I drank a lot of California wines from my childhood to my early forties, other than trying culty Cabs or overpriced SQN grenache, there's not a ton of novelty out there.  On the other hand, there are something like 2000 wine grape varieties, made in all kinds of climates, blended together in endless combinations.  I have a lot of work ahead of me! And some of those oddball wines are a lot more affordable ($6 Mt. Etna Rose from Nerello Macalese! $9 Muscadet sur lie!) than getting deeply into Barolo, Barbaresco, or good Bordeaux, about which I also have a lot to learn.

 

20
3162
Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 31, 2012.

JD, you're comparing skin care products to wine?  Sacre bleu... and 100% on target.

Music and wine also have in common that something hits you as amazing at some point in your life and would get no such reaction if it happened slightly differently--Nick Hornby got it right for me when he talked about falling in love just because you heard a chord change in a Pretenders song--it can also go the other way with music, but a lot of the time, it's just being in that place at that time. I once heard "Layla" while interviewing at a college in the middle of the desert, and I can't describe for you how it felt hearing that opening riff booming across a "quad" 28 miles from the nearest thing resembling civilization, surrounded by the Panamint Range.  "Into the Mystic," our wedding recessional (played live by Shana Morrison, while overlooking the Pacific from a bluff in Bolinas) makes my arm hair stand up (even thinking about it now is doing it).  I liked it before, which is why we chose it, but it's at a whole different level now, even 11 years after our wedding.

I thought this weekend that I had really not found a lot of music that moved me for, oh, the last twenty years and that is a shame.  Even when I get together with my pal Will, who writes for Rolling Stone (yay! going to see him in NY soon!) and he tells me about the latest thing, I have a hard time getting enthusiastic. Considering I spent my twenties in clubs, hanging out with musicians, many of them still friends, that's a big change.

(Note: Sign you are talking to someone much younger, from actual conversation a couple years ago:

Young woman:  What do you do for a living?

Will:  I'm a writer. (modestly)

YW: What do you write about?

Will: Music.

YW: Oh, where does your writing appear?

Will:  I'm a staff writer at Rolling Stone.

YW:  Oh, my mom reads Rolling Stone.

I practically spit wine out my nose listening to that. I'd have killed to have Will's life even then.)

Were we talking about CO2?

69
90
Reply by Erica Landin, Aug 4, 2012.

Foxall , that was a BURN! I'd feel bad for Will if he wasn't, well, a staff writer for the Rolling Stone ;)

Anyways, lots of long answers on this thread and since I didn't read them all (sorry!) I might be repeating someone else's answer:

Yes, the CO2 from wine fermentation adds up but it is nothing compared to the carbon footprint of transporting wine from the site of production to the consumer. Bulk, Bag-in-Box or PET-bottles are all ways of reducing this, but let's face it, who wants that? Lightweight bottles are a good step in the right direction without sacrificing the feel of a glass bottle.

On that note, most people don't realize that transporting a bottle of Cali wine to NYC by truck is a much, much larger carbon expenditure than shipping a wine by tanker from South Africa, so "local sourcing" isn't always the answer!

It's an interesting topic - wine production and transport is actually a larger contributor to global CO2-production than one would think! I've written several articles on the topic and was surprised!

Take care!
/Erica

69
90
Reply by Erica Landin, Aug 4, 2012.

Oh, and yes, for a winery to be "carbon neutral" they usually have to buy cap-and-trade offsets. More and more places claim this on their labels - make sure it's certified by a respectable organization. Also, very very few count the transport from the winery, which as we said is the biggie... :)


Back to Categories

Top Contributors This Month

1498622 Snooth User: Really Big Al
1498622Really Big Al
51 posts
125836 Snooth User: dmcker
125836dmcker
47 posts
324443 Snooth User: outthere
324443outthere
43 posts

Categories

View All




Snooth Media Network