Sip Back and Relax

Because it's wine o'clock somewhere

We’ve missed you all since the last time we sent out our newsletter! We are now refreshed and super excited to get back into posting our weekly deep dives. Before we jump into this week’s edition, we got a chance to chat with Sean Pritzkau on his podcast, We Can Do This. We share a little bit about how we started Do One Better and where we hope to go from there. Hope you can give the episode a listen!

Wine tasting season is upon us! As summer blue skies and sunny warm weather begin to turn the corner, people are going out to drink and have a good time. Now’s a perfect time to wine down and discuss a little bit more about this satisfying alcoholic beverage.

At a Glance 

To no surprise, wine is one of the most popular drinks around the world, with the U.S. leading in wine consumption at around 4.3 billion bottles per year. In 2019, the wine industry was worth over $365 billion in 2019 and is projected to grow to over $440 billion by 2027. Italy, France and Spain produce over 13 billion bottles alone.

Yet, it might surprise you what it takes to produce wine. Each gallon of requires over six gallons of water, with inefficiencies in irrigation, sprays and sanitation. The storage and shipping required can also be difficult to be sustainable for the long term, not to mention the several different animal-derived products used in fertilizers and wine clarification (removing left-behind matter in wine).

Well, no need to keep all this info bottled up!

Environmental Cost

Here’s the typical wine making process:

  1. Across the vineyard, grapes are grown, harvested and stemmed.

  2. Then they are crushed and pressed, removing their seeds and skins.

  3. The juice is fermented with yeast, turning all of the sugars into wine.

  4. Wineries will then sediment, decant, and clarify the leftover waste from wine.

  5. The wine is then bottled, shipped and sold in stores.

Although viticulture is generally pretty environmentally friendly, there are several major residues left behind from wine making, 75% of this being wastewater. The other 25% is made up of organic grape wastes, wine lees, greenhouse gases, and other inorganic waste. All of this waste contains metal contents with low pH levels, which is harmful for agriculture and the natural habitat.

Many vineyards also use pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers on their grapes, with over 25 million pounds used in California wineries in 2010 and over 33 million pounds in France. These harmful chemicals are known to be probable causes of cancer and groundwater contaminants. And while there is little evidence of pesticides being found in wine, the residue left behind damages the local wildlife and ecosystems.

Wineries waste lots of water during irrigation and cleaning wineries due to a mix of inefficiencies and poor management. They also release tons of CO2 during the fermentation process, concentrated tightly and exerted into the atmosphere from wine cellars. In addition, some animal products are used during the clarification process in a step called “fining.”

Last thing to mention is the packaging and shipping process. Wineries depend on glass bottle and bottle cap makers from around the world, often purchasing from non-local shops that lead to higher energy costs. Even foil seals used on wine bottles are often not recyclable and add to the carbon footprint. Shipping wine to distributors and customers also uses a heavy amount of virgin cardboard, a material that uses 24 trees and spends more energy, waste water, and greenhouse gases than recycled cardboard.

Human Cost

The wine industry has gone global, with wines from Australia, USA, Chile, and South Africa stocked on store shelves. Each country has its own set of labor issues:

  • In South Africa, workers suffer from low wages, insecure working conditions, harassment, and lack of housing. Women are also likely to suffer from pay discrimination

  • The US mostly relies on immigrant workers, who have come to the US from Mexico over the past several decades. However in the last couple years, the number of people moving in has declined by ~1% per year, given that the conditions have become more expensive and dangerous. Migrant workers' children are not following their parents' footsteps as well. For the past several years migrant workers lived in fear of being deported. Because of low wages and grueling conditions, these jobs aren't attractive to people born in the US. 

  • In the months after the Arab Spring, thousands of refugees came to the Italian coast. Winemakers in Sicily and Apulia took advantage of this cheap, undocumented labor. These workers work in exploitative conditions that some describe can be close to slave labor. 

The Future of Wine

As global temperatures start to rise, many vineyards are shrinking due to droughts, and some have considered moving to new farmland or trying to plant new grape varieties. But the most exciting are the wineries that are beginning to make big strides in changing how they actively produce and distribute wine.

Scientists and sustainability groups have been pushing for sustainable actions for years. The Proto Protocol launched a climate change summit with the help of former U.S. president Barack Obama, bringing together wineries and scientists. 

The creation of certification groups such Sustainability in Practice, the Haute Qualite Environmentale, the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, LODI Rules, the Environmental Management Systems, and LIVE help to define, label and establish clear guidelines for the entire supply chain to follow.

Here are the main ways groups are trying to improve their processes:

Large wineries like Familia Torres, a popular Spanish winery, set big commitments to reduce CO2 emissions per bottle by 50% by 2030 and the Jackson Family Wines have also worked to reduce its CO2 emission and water consumption, hoping to achieve zero waste.

The UC Davis Sustainable Winery in California is the first self-sustainable, zero carbon winery in the world, building a sophisticated energy system with solar panels and lithium batteries and capturing and recycling rainwater. Wine clubs like Vegan Wines are also focusing on ensuring that all the ingredients used in wine don’t have pesticides nor use animal products throughout the entire wine making process.

We highly recommended reading these resources for more information.

Ingredients and Labels

You might have noticed by now that as you're walking down the aisle in the grocery store, everything has a nutrition label except alcohol. Fun fact — regulation of alcohol falls under the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), not the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In 2013, the TTB made labels optional. Because of this, it's a complete black box of what goes in your wine, but here's what you need to know:

  • U.S. wine producers can legally use76 additives in making wine (some of these including mega purple coloring dye, fish bladders, sulfur dioxide, and dimethyl dicarbonate which is so toxic that it must be applied by specialists in hazmat suits). Only 38 of these are generally recognized as safe

  • Almost all modern vineyards spray with chemicals, including the weed killer Roundup. Roundup has glyphosate, which is associated with a range of diseases including cancer and Parkinson's. 

Here are some additives that could be in your wine, and what they are used for:

  • Potassium sorbate & Potassium metabisulfite: used as protectors in the winemaking process to ward off bacteria and keep yeast from spoiling. 

  • Calcium carbonate: reduces the acidity of the final product, and typically added when the grapes used have had trouble ripening. 

  • Sulfur dioxide: used to preserve grapes, stabilize wine, and prevent oxidation. It is also used to sanitize barrels and other winemaking equipment.

  • Sugar: Used to help boost alcohol content, helping the yeast in the fermentation process (a process called chaptalization).

  • Grape juice concentrate: Mega purple and ultra red are examples of concentrates derived from grapes which enhance the color of wine and add sugar. 

  • Non vegan ingredients: Used in the fining and clarification procedure. These ingredients include egg whites, milk products, dried fish bladders, gelatin, porcine/bovine pancreas/stomach, or casein.  

Wineries also measure sustainability differently between each other, making it hard to align on one definition. For us, sustainable wine focuses on reducing the waste produced and pesticide used during the winemaking process, while also conserving water and energy.

Here are a few othercommon labels wineries use and what they really mean:

  • Organic: No pesticides or GMOs used in the grapes, and no sulfites used during wine production. Labeling is approved by the USDA.

  • Biodynamic: No synthetic chemical interference as a farming practice that follows the moon phases, certified by the Demeter Association.

Alternatives to Consider

When shopping for wines, consider looking for organic wines that have few additives. We understand this is tricky considering wine is a good that doesn't have a nutrition label. Here are several recommendations (for which we are not sponsored). Have more recommendations? Send them our way!

  • Ferrari Carano | ~$15-45 | California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance certified, water/energy efficient, has a number of certifications for wildlife and biodiversity conservation. 

  • A to Z Pinot Gris | ~$16-20/bottle | B Corp, carbon neutral shipping, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Platinum Certified, and works with local communities to make a difference in the arts/education/healthcare/social justice space 

  • Frog's Leap | $20-76/bottle | All 200 acres of grapes are dry farmed, vineyards and gardens are California Certified Organic Farms, and their winery is 100% solar powered

  • Benziger Family Winery | ~$20-85/bottle | Every wine has a third party certification of their green farming practices. The products are sustainable, organic, and biodynamic. 

  • Avaline  | ~$25 | Organic, little additives, vegan friendly 

  • Silver Oak | ~$80-275 | Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Platinum Certified, Energy and Water conscious winery

What You Can Do

  • Audit the wines you are consuming and check their websites if they have any statements about their labor and environmental practices. 

  • Consider buying organic, sustainable and/or local wines. Cheaper wines also tend to be industrially farmed and mass-produced, meaning they are often not sustainable.

  • Find wineries suggested by the certification groups listed above if you need recommendations!

  • Don't let your friends make pour decisions — share this article with them! 🍷

Questions or comments on this piece? Suggestions on what we should cover next? Send us a note.