Vineyards & Wine

Meet the Movements Spearheading a More Sustainable Wine Industry

Here’s how change-making wineries are working towards collectively reducing the wine industry’s carbon footprint

With Earth Day approaching on April 22, have you ever stopped to consider how sustainable the wine you’re drinking really is? According to Spanish company Group Acre, which tracked a white wine from production to consumption, the average bottle releases about 2.8 pounds (1.28 kg) of carbon into the atmosphere over its lifetime.

While that carbon footprint is significant, it’s certainly nowhere near the environmental impact of other industries—but, say vintners, it’s the bigger picture that should be considered here. “Those of us who live off the land see the serious consequences, such as frost, hail, or heat waves that now occur more frequently and with more intensity,” explains Miguel A. Torres, president and a fourth-generation winemaker of Familia Torres in Spain.

“We all know that our planet has warmed due to the greenhouse gases we produce,” he continues, “and we cannot afford a stand-by-and-watch attitude towards climate change.” Instead he, and other producers around the world are combining forces to effect change.

An electric tram outside the Familia Torres producer of sustainable wines
Familia Torres fully embraces a green ethos: the majority of vehicles its winery uses are electric, including its tram for wine tours—and, with a presence in more than 150 countries, the brand is well placed to spearhead change in the wine industry.

International Action

To tackle the challenge head on, Familia Torres and California-based Jackson Family Wines have launched International Wineries for Climate Action (I.W.C.A.). The group aims to achieve a 50 percent reduction in the wine industry’s carbon emissions by 2030, and to become climate positive (by removing additional carbon from the atmosphere) by 2050.

“Together with the Jackson family, we saw that bigger steps were necessary to do something about global warming,” says Torres. “We thought that this could only be achieved by gathering the most environmentally committed wineries and working together towards reducing emissions.”

We cannot afford a stand-by-and-watch attitude towards climate change—Miguel A. Torres

To become a member of I.W.C.A., wineries have to be powered by at least 20 percent on-site renewable energy, demonstrate a 25 percent reduction in carbon emissions per unit of wine produced, and complete an annual greenhouse gas audit. There’s also a focus on ensuring water efficiency, embracing sustainable wine growing practices, and utilizing low-impact packaging materials and transportation methods.

An aerial view of a winery and vineyards at sunset
Australian winery Cullen Wines was established in 1971, with a concern for the environment as an integral part of its ethos. Today, the I.W.C.A. member is certified organic and embraces sustainable farming practices.

“Each wine company has to have a sustainable program in place,” Torres explains. “In our case we have our Torres & Earth program, which since 2008 has invested more than €15 million ($17,670,600) in renewable energy, electric cars, adaptation of our vineyards, reforestation, and research. But it is also necessary to work together as a sector, and this where I.W.C.A. comes in.”

And the group is growing: six new members joined in 2020 alone, including Symington Family Estates in Portugal; Yealands Wine Group in New Zealand; Spottswoode and Silver Oak in the U.S.A.; VSPT Wine Group in Chile and Argentina; and Alma Carraovejas in Spain. In January 2021, the organization announced that Cullen Wines in Australia and Bodega Emina in Spain had also joined the mission.

Leading by Example

In addition to the measures already mentioned by Torres, Familia Torres wines also utilizes innovative sustainable solutions, such as a biomass boiler that prevents the emission of 1,300 tons of CO2 per year. It has reduced bottle weight to decrease emissions from their manufacture and transport, and nearly 80 percent of the vehicles it uses are electric or hybrid.

Plus, the winery has embraced cutting-edge bioclimatic architecture—building designs based on the local climate, which help to reduce the energy needed for cooling or heating.

Aerial view of the Silver Oak tasting room and its solar panels
Named California’s most eco-conscious winery by The San Francisco Chronicle, Silver Oak’s Napa Valley winery is not only highly energy efficient but also uses vine-based technologies to reduce its irrigation needs by 86 percent.

Similarly, Silver Oak in Napa Valley, California, stands out for its sustainable winery design, and is the world’s first production winery to receive an LEED Platinum certification. In 2020, the International living Institute also certified the brand’s nearby Alexander Valley winery a Living Building, meaning it gives more than it takes from the environment.

Using smart green building techniques, its two sites both make use of salvaged and reclaimed building materials, with energy sourced from solar panels. And, by utilizing as many as 2,595 solar panels, the winery in Alexander Valley generates more energy than it consumes.

It’s necessary to approach sustainability as a sector, and this is where I.W.C.A. comes in—Miguel A. Torres

Dynamic Movement

Another movement making sustainable waves in the industry is that of biodynamic wine—that is, wine produced through farming practices that view the vineyard as one cohesive ecosystem, with each portion of the operation contributing to the next.

Wild flowers in front of a vineyard at Benziger wines
Benziger Family Winery calls its insectary “a vital part of our ranch” and grows a variety of seasonal plants, fruits, and vegetables here to attract insects that are critical to the health of its vines.

Benziger Family Winery in California has long been renowned for this approach. Here, for example, a herd of sheep replaces the need for mowing and spraying herbicides, while also aerating the soil and depositing nutrient-rich fertilizer throughout the vineyard. And a range of plants is grown alongside the grapevines, attracting beneficial insects that naturally deter pests that are harmful to the crop.

“We were early pioneers in biodynamic farming, which led us to ensuring all our vineyards adopted sustainable practices,” says Chris Benziger, brand ambassador of Benziger Family Winery. “We’ve learned a lot along the way, and now our mission is to communicate this story to our business partners and consumers, so they can engage in the process.”

This desire to ensure the land is left in as good or better shape than it was found for future generations is at the heart of both I.W.C.A. and the biodynamic movement. And Benziger believes that lasting change is imminent. “We’re on the brink of breaking through,” he says, “but we must keep moving forward.”

Banner image: Karsten Würth