Is organic wine better for the environment than conventional wine? Slate contributor Brian Palmer wonders in his recent article.
Isn't the answer obvious? Conventional viticulture has serious environmental issues such as soil depletion, water pollution, loss of biodiversity, and resistance to pests. On the other hand, organic viticulture produces crops that are healthier, more drought tolerant, more resistant to diseases and pests, and can better compete with weeds. But in reality, viticulture is only one of many factors that contribute to the environmental impact of a bottle of wine. Other major factors are winemaking practices, packaging, and shipping.
This interesting study attempts to quantify the greenhouse gas emissions of a bottle of wine and compares various production and transportation scenarios. It shows that the difference in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, between organic and conventional viticulture is relatively small, although this could change if the cost of fossil fuel increases in the future. The CO2 emissions that occur during fermentation are also small. They represent less than 3% of the overall amount of CO2 emissions for one bottle of wine. However, aging wine in oak barrels is more costly for the environment than aging in stainless steel tanks, especially if barrels are imported and new oak is used every year.
Actually, the study shows that the greatest impact on the greenhouse effect from the wine supply chain comes from transportation, and this includes the transport of empty bottles to the winery and full bottles to the customers. The cost tends to be much higher for these ultra premium wines in thick, oversized bottles. In fact, it is far more “green” to use boxed wines or Tetra Pak packaging.
If you live in New York, it is also greener to drink a bottle of wine from Bordeaux that has travelled in a container across the Atlantic than a wine from Napa that came across the country in a truck. Now, for us Californians, what is the price of enjoying a bottle of Bordeaux without being too bothered by our green conscience?
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