The carbon footprint of wine

Australian-looking man with hat inspecting grapes

Australian-looking man with hat inspecting grapes

If you are one of the dozen or so people that read this blog – yes, you are a select bunch – then let me tell you that many of these blog entries are written after I have imbibed a glass or two of wine. My favourite wines are from the ‘new world’ – Australia and New Zealand – and so I am very personally concerned about the carbon foot print of wines from the New World. And I am in good company.

Looking on the web it is hard to find definitive data. The Winemakers Federation of Australia have a downloadable carbon calculator on their web site which combines comprehensiveness with incomprehensibility. Treehugger quotes some numbers appropriate to the USA that tell a simple story with very profound consequences: transport by road is dramatically worse than transport by boat. For each bottle of wine (weight around 500g of bottle plus 750g of wine):

If you live in New York your options, best to worst, are:

  • Bordeaux, France (which are shipped via ship) = 136 g of CO2 equivalent  (11% of weight)
  • Santiago, Chile (also sent by ship) = 181 g of CO2 equivalent (15% of weight)
  • Sydney, Australia (ship, again) =  409 g of CO2 equivalent (33% of weight)
  • Napa, California (driven by truck) =  2000 g of CO2 equivalent (160% of weight)

And if you live in Los Angeles California:

  • Chilean wines = 227 g of CO2 equivalent (18% of weight)
  • Californian or Australian wines = 272 g of CO2 equivalent (22% of weight)
  • French wines = 1364 g of CO2 equivalent (110% of weight)

So in New York, drinking French wine has a lower carbon footprint that Californian wine, and in Southern California, drinking wine from Chile has a lower carbon footprint that drinking wine from Northern California. These results are at the same time shocking but unsurprising. The implication is that it is not really possible to have a single figure that reflects the carbon footprint of an item of produce, because the carbon emissions associated with transport to its place of consumption are such a significant fraction of its footprint. This insight has not been lost on Tesco who have begun to move wine by canal.

Caveats and implications for the UK

Of course I haven’t verified these figures independently, and I suspect some sources of embodied carbon (such as the glass bottle itself which I estimate amounts to around 75 g of CO2 equivalent) have not been correctly included. But I did once calculate that the CO2 emissions per apple shipped from New Zealand amounted to about 33% of the apple by weight, so the figures for wine seem plausible. The UK is a small island and the high price of fuel has made us distribute goods with relatively high efficiency. I think the same figure of one third to one half of the weight is probably a fair guess for both French and Australian Wines. For American wine it would depend entirely whether it was shipped from the East or West coast. Perhaps I will try a wine box which has a higher weight ratio of wine to packaging…

This article was written with the aid of approximately 350 ml of wine, and 175 g of CO2.

4 Responses to “The carbon footprint of wine”

  1. Roger Kerrison Says:

    Interesting article. I work as a specialist in GHG lifecycle footprint for wine products. It is worth noting that packaging, both direct and indirect has the largest influence on the products carbon footprint. Therefore the best thing a wine drinker can do for the environment is move towards those wines in lighter glass (or even Tetra or PET if feeling adventurous).

    • protonsforbreakfast Says:

      Roger

      Thanks for your comments. It is too rare for me to ‘meet’ an expert on GHG emissions for me to forego asking questions. So:
      Is my estimate of 75g CO2 equivalent as the embodied carbon for a wine bottle about right?
      And is what you say still true for wine that has been driven a long distance by road?

  2. Peter Says:

    Knowing the average daily food intake of people is it possible to estimate the daily Carbon footprint of each of us (ignoring the footprint producing the things we eat?)

    Cheers

    PEter

    PS It might be informative to see how Beer comes out (draught, not bottled that is).

  3. Darleen Carlill Says:

    Hey I was trawling for trustworthy feedback on ink for grand format printers. Your blog was listed on Bing in this category, you have an interesting site.

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