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.