Green Wine Is in Our Future…If We Want It

Green Wine Is in Our Future…If We Want It


Patricia Butterfield, PhD, Co-owner, Winescape

The song ‘Happy Xmas’ by John and Yoko (yes, them) is a classic earworm.  Free of Hallmark-ism sentiment, the song has a different take on holiday cheer. It has simple lyrics (“the near and the dear ones, the old and the young”) and a beautiful melody.  But it’s something else in the song that always gets to me; it’s the subtext.  Throughout the chorus, the backup singers keep repeating “war is over…if you want it.”. They remind us (in every measure) that societal change can come if we (the collective we) act intentionally toward that change.  It’s worth pondering the power and grace of that idea.


Segue to wine.  There’s a lot of discussion about the global wine industry’s burden on the environment. How concerning is it and what’s being done?  Well as with most things, there’s good and bad news, so let’s start with a bit of the bad.  Over the past 10+ years, scientists have been examining the carbon footprints of various wines and….drum roll….it’s all over the board. A 2022 study by da Silva and da Silva reported carbon footprints ranging from 0.11 to 2.0 kg CO2e for a standard bottle of wine.  That’s an 18-fold difference.  Yikes, it’s hard to know what to do with data like that.


So… how do you decide what wine to buy without having analysis paralysis?  Fortunately the good folks at Wine Enthusiast have given us a more intuitive way to think about wine and sustainability.  They proposed that we ask ourselves 3 questions when buying wine.  And they are: 1) where is this wine from? 2) how was this wine made? and 3) what is it packaged in? 


Starting with #1 where the wine comes from; fortunately this is pretty intuitive. Transportation is the largest influence on the carbon footprint of wine. Air shipments of wine are the most energy intensive, followed by trucking and then container ships. Yet another reason to buy grapes sourced and wines made locally. Fortunately, we live in Washington (versus Alaska or Maine) so local options are plentiful. Second…how’s the wine made…this is a bit more complicated to think through.  Lots of things figure in here…water use, product (yeasts, nutrients) selection, and last not the least, waste disposal. Washington scores points yet again in this category because…another drum roll…our state has recently implemented “SustainableWA,” a vineyard certification program. If you see SustainableWA on the label, you’ll know that the grapes in the bottle met the highest standards for environmental stewardship. That’s a huge step for the Washington wine industry.


And last but not least, packaging. Heavy bottles used to signify prestige (and cost) in wine. Many wineries have already made the jump to lighter glass, a change long overdue. Some states, including our own, are pushing hard on re-use. The issues (e.g., resterilization of used glass) are complex, but not unsolvable. Tough challenges lie ahead, but greener wine is in our future…if we want it.  We, the public, can drive change by the choices we make each day.  Perhaps not just yet, but change will come if we keep asking questions, buying responsibly, and challenging the prevailing norm. Change will come…if we want it.


That leads us to us (aka Winescape). We’re a 2,000 case/year production winery on 14 acres southeast of Spokane (aka Glenrose). We’re scientists and public health advocates.  But after 5 years in operation, 2+ years of Covid, and a couple of hundred rounds of cost increases (e.g., bottles, grapes, corks, fuel), environmental sustainability fell away from our priority list. Frankly we just had too many other irons in the fire. So this harvest we decided to reflect and recommit to environmental sustainability as a core value of our business (and our passion). We recently penned a Commitment to the Environmental Statement. We are not alone; many other wineries are taking similar steps.  Our commitment took a broad brush, addressing not only our winery operations, but also our endorsement of land conservation in Spokane.  As we note, our Commitment to the Environment is not enough and we will need to do more. Much more. But change (and greener wine) will come…if we all want it.