Six ways to be a more eco-friendly drinks producer

News from The Drinking Business

A lot of businesses talk the talk when it comes to sustainability, but not everyone can walk the walk.

It’s all too easy for a company to pay lip service to becoming eco-friendly, without investing the hard yards to ensure its impact.

Making a difference beyond creating a positive headline should be the aim of all businesses. With so many other pressures and demands on time and resources it can be difficult, but there are a million tiny ways that a business can become more sustainable.

Sustainability can cover all kinds of areas, from vineyard and water waste management, reducing energy usage and social investment to organic and biodynamic production methods.

Taking a few steps towards becoming a more eco-friendly operation can add up to a big difference, and the monetary investment doesn’t have to be huge – it can even save money.

Drinks companies are taking sustainability seriously, as last year’s Drinks Business Green Awards shows. But there is always more work to be done.

The following is a snapshot guide to going green, highlighting the producers that are leading the way in eco-friendly drinks initiatives, protecting the planet and investing for future generations….

6. Reduce your carbon footprint

It’s an obvious one, but a big one. Reducing your carbon footprint is all about reducing (and offsetting) your energy use. Methods to do this can range from using solar panels and biomass boilers, to streamlining distribution channels and deceasing the weight of your product. Two companies leading the way in this area are California’s Jackson Family Wines and Australia’s De Bortoli.

The former has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030, with a further goal to become climate positive by 2050. Measures employed to reach this goal include wide-scale use of renewable energy and regenerative farming, cutting its energy use and redistributing its resources. It also co-founded the International Wineries for Climate Action (IWCA) initiative in 2019, which aims to reduce carbon emissions across the wine industry by focusing on science-based research and development.

De Bortoli meanwhile has long banged the drum for eco-friendly winemaking. This year it launched its 17 Trees project, making a commitment to offsetting its carbon emissions by planting trees to rebuild Australia’s bushland. The producer has promised to plant one tree for every six bottles of wine sold. It is also working toward the goal of becoming Australia’s firs hero waste wine producer, investing $15m in initiatives including solar panels and industrial composting systems for the conversion of winemaking waste, such as grape skins, stems and seeds.

On a smaller scale, simply turning off unnecessary lights and switching to LEDs can make a difference. LEDs use around 15 times less electricity than halogen bulbs, and around three times less than fluorescent bulbs.

5. Reduce waste and turn it into something new

Reusing waste is a cornerstone of sustainability. Spent grape skins are among the biggest waste products produced by the wine industry. It’s estimated that on average 1kg of pomace is produced for every 6 litres of wine made, containing skins, stalks and seeds. While a lot of wineries will compost their pomace and use its as fertiliser, or as animal feed, the vast majority is thrown away. But there are more lucrative and diverse ways that it can be processed and repurposed. Outside of the drinks industry, it can be sold and used in the production of biofuels, cosmetics, grape seed oil and food supplements. Or it can be redistilled to produce new spirits.

English wine estate Rathfinny uses the third pressing of its grapes (the rébeche) to produce a base still wine, which it then uses to produce its Seven Sisters gin and brandy, and also fortify the estate’s Seven Sisters Dry White Vermouth. The 2018 of this vintage was made from a base wine of Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc, and a grape spirit made by redistilling a Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay from the Estate.

In the world of spirits, William Grant & Sons committed to reusing waste with the launch of the Discarded Spirits Company in 2018. Its sole purpose is to develop products made with surplus ingredients. Its first product, Discarded Vermouth, was infused with cascara (the fruit left over from the coffee berry), which was shortly followed by a rum made using left over banana peels.

Scottish brewer BrewDog meanwhile has also invested in becoming more eco-friendly. This year it is due to launch its Bad Beer Vodka, which is made using leftover beer, while any spent grain from its brewery and distillery are turned into dog biscuits. The launch is part of its pledge to invest £30 million (US$39m) in green initiatives. It has also bought 830 hectares of land in the Scottish Highlands to create the Brewdog Forest with the aim of planting one million trees, offsetting its carbon footprint. Other green initiatives include powering all of its UK bars with renewable energy and turning spent grain into green gas to power production facilities.

4. Make use of renewable energy sources

Renewable energy – another sure fire way to reduce your carbon footprint and save money while you’re at it. Solar panels, biomass boilers and wind turbines can all be used to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the size of your operation.

English wine estate Hambledon installed its first biomass heating system this year in an effort to reduce its carbon footprint. The system will convert its vine prunings into fuel for heating its winery, offices, visitor centre, wine tourism facilities and other outbuildings.

New Zealand’s Yealand’s, Australia’s Yalumba and Spain’s Miguel Torres’ are just some of the larger producers investing heavily in this form of energy, but the list if growing longer with each passing year.

Nicaraguan rum brand Flor de Caña meanwhile distills all of its rums using 100% renewable energy generated from biomass. The distiller was certified Carbon Neutral by the Carbon Trust in May 2020 and certified FairTrade in 2018, making it the only global spirit to hold both top sustainability certifications. The distiller has also planted some 50,000 trees and has also mastered the capture of carbon emissions, which it sells on to breweries in Central America.

3. Reduce pesticide use and go organic, or even biodynamic

Overall, the global organic wine market was forecast last year to grow 43% by 2024, with more consumers seeking out sustainably-produced wines. This is not only great for the environment, and ensuring the sustainability of vineyards for future generations, but the quality of wine, according to one study – see here. 

Larger companies too are increasingly committing to organic practices. Last month New Zealand’s Villa Maria announced the launch of its first organic wine range, certified by BioGro. The ‘EarthGarden’ organic wine range will include a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2020, Hawke’s Bay Rosé 2020, Marlborough Pinot Noir 2019 and Hawke’s Bay Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, and are part of Villa Maria’s commitment to converting 100% of its vineyards to be organically managed by 2030.

Most winemakers tend to agree that organic, or biodynamic, viticulture is better all round, for the environment and grape quality. Though depending on where you are producing grapes it can be easier said than done.

One initiative to help battle diseases that would otherwise require fungicides emerged from New York this year in the form of robots fitted with ultraviolet light lamps that patrol vineyards at night and kill off downy and powdery mildew, which is more common in wetter vineyards. Researchers at Cornell AgriTech in Geneva, New York, partnered with SAGA Robotics in Norway to develop the first commercial robotic units, which are set to appear on the market this year.

The UV-light technique has been hailed a breakthrough against powdery and downy mildew, which can quickly adapt to chemical anti-fungal sprays. Typically, blue light found in natural UV sunlight triggers a defence mechanism in organisms which protects them from any damage. The trick has been to apply UV light at night, when there is no blue light, preventing the pathogens from protecting themselves and instead killing them off.

2. Make your packaging matter


How many times have you bemoaned the arrival of a product to your doorstep, wrapped, padded and trussed up in unnecessary plastic? It isn’t just corners of the drinks industry that are guilty of this, it’s everywhere. Plastic is terrible for the planet, that we all know. And it only takes one plastic-wrapped delivery from a company proclaiming to be eco-friendly for a consumer who values sustainability to switch off.

Things are improving as larger companies take steps to address the wasteful nature of unnecessary plastic packaging and reduce the weight of heavy glass bottles. But with the pandemic making home delivery services more popular than ever, eco-friendly and sustainable packaging methods have never been more important.

With regards to bottles themselves, one recent innovation has come in the form of Garçon Wines’ 75cl flat wine bottle made from 100% recycled plastic, with the bottle itself also 100% recyclable. The bottle is 87% lighter than and average glass wine bottle and half the size, meaning more bottles can fit on a shelf at any one time, as well as on the pallets that deliver them, improving the efficiency of the supply chain. They can also be posted through a letterbox. Accolade, Naked Wines and Philip Schofield have all taken up the packaging solution for their respective wines.

Meanwhile Pernod Ricard unveiled an entirely recyclable paper wine bottle with the launch of a prototype of its Absolut paper bottle. Made by Paboco (The Paper Bottle Company), an initial batch of 2,000 paper bottles containing the vodka will be released across the UK and Sweden. The paper bottle from Absolut is made from 57% paper and 43% recycled plastic. The plastic forms a layer within the bottle and is fully recyclable. It follows Diageo’s release of a limited run of Johnnie Walker whisky in a paper bottle, made from sustainably sourced pulp, that is “fully recyclable in standard waste streams”.

Another packaging company, Frugalpac, which is based in Ipswich, Suffolk, was set to release its first paper bottle, in partnership with Silent Pool gin, this year. Frugalpac already has a wine paper bottle on the market; an unoaked Sangiovese from Cantina Goccia.

1. And finally, be part of the conversation

Becoming more sustainable takes years of investment and lots of little steps that together can make a big difference. Sharing our successes and failures can have a transformative impact on other businesses and help to speed up awareness and progress across the industry. After all, there’s no use keeping successes to yourself when it comes to climate change and environmental awareness.

An example is the Porto Protocol Foundation, launched in 2019 by Adrian Bridge, managing director of Port producer Fladgate. The non-profit initiative seeks to encourage the global wine industry towards one common goal: to minimise the effects of climate change by doing more tomorrow than they are today to reduce CO2 emissions, and to share their experiences and expertise via the platform.

The foundation’s mission is to drive collaborative action by bringing together a network of change makers and workable climate solutions for and within the wine world. Among its many members are Amorim, Marks & Spencer, Napa Valley Vintners, Symington Family Estates and Catena Zapata.

“It doesn’t matter how big your contribution is, but everyone should be making one,” Bridge says. “We all have to be responsible and adapt. The first thing is to ask people to do more, and the second is to share your experiences.”