A photo of a large blue machine removing grapes from the vines
Figure 1: Grape harvesting machine

Mitigating the environmental impact

So far this week, we’ve focused on adaptation, but there is also potential to mitigate the GHG emissions and other environmental impacts associated with the wine industry.

Viticulture is only responsible for relatively low levels of GHG emissions, which is why from a CSA perspective, the target for farming within this sector is predominantly adaptation, rather than mitigation. Growing the grapes is fairly climate friendly, but some processes within the value chain, that take place after the fruit has been harvested, are responsible for the emission of GHGs.

The largest proportion of GHGs emitted in viticulture is CO2 due to burning fossil fuels, and to a smaller extent N2O emissions due to the application of nitrogen fertilisers. Under a more holistic perspective on environmental impact, vineyards also have a mitigation potential regarding the use of fertilisers, pesticides and water.

A potential way of mitigation within the sector might be the fixation of carbon, through the vines themselves, or with methods of agro-forestry and agro-ecology. Greening the areas between vines not only improves the quality of the soil and the capacity for water retention, it also leads to an increased fixation of CO2 from the atmosphere. Currently, the soils of many vineyards contain only small amounts of organic matter (residues of animals or plants that contain carbon important for plant growth and soil health). Establishing plants between vines could increase the amount of organic matter in the ground and therefore the amount of carbon stored in the soil.

The production and transportation of glass bottles to store wine, is responsible for a large amount of CO2 emissions in this sector. The global import and export of wine must be considered, as no matter where they are produced, wines from the popular growing regions are transported to customers all over the world. Choosing a local wine, rather than one imported from the other side of the world is one consumer choice that that might make a difference to GHG emissions.

Most wines are sold in glass bottles, which are much heavier than other forms of packaging used to store and transport liquids. Wine is transported in bottles, requires a lot of fossil fuel to transport the weight of the packaging, let alone the bottles including the wine. Transporting wine in bulk containers or lighter packaging material is more climate friendly and there are efforts being made to develop lighter bottles, which will not only reduce the amount of fossil fuel needed for transportation, it will also require less energy for glass production.

Although screw caps for wine bottles are getting more and more popular other options, including the traditional cork, are considered to have a lower carbon footprint and are therefore, more climate friendly. More recently, recyclable synthetic bottle closures made from renewable plant polymers could be a promising alternative to screw caps.

When you next visit your local shop or supermarket, take a few minutes to look at the wine shelves.Where do the wines come from? Can you see any labels that ensure a climate or environmentally friendly production? Share your findings in the comment area below.


References and further reading:

  • Neto, B., Dias, A.C. and Machado, M., (2013). Life cycle assessment of the supply chain of a Portuguese wine: from viticulture to distribution. The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 18(3), 590-602.

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This article is from the free online course:

The Future of Farming: Exploring Climate Smart Agriculture

University of Reading