Wine news

Global warming: drinking Old World wines generates four times less CO2

Is it time to act now?

We’ve reached the point where global warming is undeniable. Already, 2020 is set to be the hottest year on record. This is a worrying trend, especially since the past five years have been, statistically, the five hottest years ever.

Luckily, more people than ever are noticing this – a 2019 Ipsos MORI poll showed that 85% of Britons are very concerned about climate change, up from 60% in 2010. The rise of groups like Extinction Rebellion show that many people are passionate about taking action to limit humanity’s impact on the environment.

Put simply, it’s time to act before it’s too late. One of the easiest ways to help the planet is by making an effort to limit the amount of CO2 we produce – also known as reducing our carbon footprint. But how does the way we consume wine play into this?

Oleg, founder of Independent Wine

Author: Oleg Dmitriev (Wine Geek), MBA, Co-founder of Independent Wine, WSET Level 2. 
Awards: Inventor of the Year 2017, Innovator of the Year 2018  
Lives in: Edinburgh, Scotland

Packaging is recyclable, fuel is not

In terms of reducing our environmental impact, we’re making pretty good headway. The UK already recycles over 70% of its packaging waste (UK Government, 2017), putting the country way ahead of EU targets. It’s something to feel good about. But while packaging from food can be recycled, the fuel used to transport it to your table can’t. Transport is a major source of CO2 – boats, planes and lorries are responsible for 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions in Europe.

Every farming process produces CO2, and winemaking is no different. But while making a bottle of wine in any part of the world will produce similar emission levels, the amount of transport pollution will depend on how far the wine has to travel before it reaches your glass.

Air pollution generated by truck vehicle

How much CO2 is generated by importing New World wines?

Container ships and lorries that carry wine from New Zealand to Britain have to make an astonishing journey of 17 thousand miles, across three oceans. Unsurprisingly this is quite a fuel-intensive route, and produces 2.1kg of CO2 per 6-bottle case of wine (calculated using ECTA Guidelines [2]). For wine that comes from Argentina, each case is responsible for 1.5kg of CO2 emissions, and Australia is even higher at 2kg per case.

It doesn’t sound like a lot, does it? Well, things get much more grim when you start adding it up. Over the course of a year, the UK imports a whopping 220 million litres of wine from Australia alone [3], generating 96 thousand tonnes of CO2. This is roughly as much as heating 35 thousand UK homes for a year [6]. Importing wines from New Zealand, like the ever-popular Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, adds an extra 19 thousand tonnes of CO2 to that total. And that’s before we even mention South Africa, South America and the USA!

Choosing wines from Europe is more sustainable

Although the UK imports three times as much wine from France and Italy than it does from New Zealand, shipping wine from the Southern Hemisphere still generates far more CO2 than buying from countries closer to home. For example, shipping a 6-bottle case of wine from Italy or France generates almost four times less CO2 than from New Zealand or Australia.

Vineyard with beautiful grapes in sunset

Table 1. CO2 emissions per journey

JourneyPallet WeightDistance, lorryCO2/tonne-kmCO2, lorryDistance, container shipCO2/tonne-kmCO2, shipTotal CO2
to UK, fromtonnekmgper palletkmgper pallettonne
Argentina0.451000620.027914,2428.40.05380.082
New Zealand0.45500620.014026,9218.40.10180.116
Australia0.45800620.022323,3098.40.08810.110
Italy (Milan)0.451237620.034508.40.00000.035
France (Bordeaux)0.451037620.028908.40.00000.029

How UK wine lovers can do their bit for global warming

It’s pretty simple – buy wine produced as close to home as possible. This doesn’t mean exclusively buying wine from Kent, of course. France, Italy and Spain are right on our doorstep and make fantastic quality wines. As well as classic favourites like Grand Cru Bordeaux, Barolo DOCG and Reserva Rioja, there are lots of small and innovative producers creating exciting new twists on classic styles. There are quite a few wines styles which are still fairly undiscovered in Britain, such as the aromatic white grape Arneis, and rich Nebbiolo from Roero – a hidden gem just a stone’s throw away from the legendary Barolo.

So when the local supermarket entices you with an attractive deal on Australian Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s worth remembering that shipping that bottle from Australia causes three times more harm to the planet than the bottle of Italian Chianti sitting on the shelf next to it.

Table 2. UK Imports of wine and CO2 pollution from transport

CountryLitresPallets of wineCO2/PalletTonnes of CO2 pollution
Australia220,500,000875,0000.110496,625
Argentina20,000,00079,3650.08176,487
New Zealand42,000,000166,6670.115719,285
Italy132,300,000525,0000.034518,119
France135,000,000535,7140.028915,499

Choosing wine with fewer air miles – the next step to reducing your carbon footprint

Happily, more and more people are doing their bit to protect our planet by reducing their food miles, switching to produce sourced from local farmers instead of more exotic options that have travelled halfway around the world. The next step towards taking responsibility for the environment is sourcing wine from our neighbouring countries. Why not try the new “Gran Selezione” class from Chianti Classico DOCG or a noble white like Gewürztraminer from Alpine vineyards in Italy’s Alto Adige DOC?

If you’re used to drinking New World wines, and are wondering how to choose a nice bottle from Europe that fits your taste and budget, we’ve created a number of simple and friendly guides. We recommend starting with “The Ultimate Guide to the best Italian Wine”, “Four sparkling wines to order online”, and “Light, sharp and fruity: what to pair with Roero Arneis”.

Sources:

[1] UK Statistics on Waste, Department for Environmental Food & Rural Affairs, UK Government, 2017

[2] Guidelines for Measuring and Managing CO2 Emission from Freight Transport Operations, European Chemical Transport Association.

[3] https://www.decanter.com/wine-news/uk-wine-imports-top-countries-384745/

[4] https://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/2017/01/argentina-tops-uk-chart-for-growth-in-2016/

[5] http://ports.com/sea-route/port-of-auckland,new-zealand/london-thamesport,united-kingdom/

[6] UK Households’ Carbon Footprint: A Comparison of the Association between Household Characteristics and Emissions from Home Energy, Transport and Other Goods and Service. IZA, 2013