This month's just-drinks management briefing focuses on environmental sustainability in the global wine sector. In part one, Ben Cooper considers the production chain, from grape to glass.

Like manufacturers in all food and beverage sectors, wine producers have been looking to extend their efforts to reduce the environmental impact of their products beyond the winery to the wider value chain, for example in agricultural production, packaging, storage or distribution.

The process begins by examining where the hotspots lie in the value chain, mapping the environmental footprint of wine from the farm to consumption.

Wine organisations and companies have undertaken lifecycle assessments for specific brands. For example, as part of the process of gaining the 'carboNZero' zero carbon certification logo for its Squealing Pig Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir wines, Treasury Wine Estates (TWE) mapped the carbon footprint of the wines along several different supply chains in both domestic and export markets. 

TWE found that for a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc sold in a 75cl glass bottle in New Zealand, upstream agricultural production represented 48% of the carbon footprint, the production process in the winery itself only 3%, bottling represented 36% of the footprint, while distribution accounted for 11% and use/end of life (EOL) for the final 2%. For a wine destined for Australia, the breakdown was 39% for agriculture, 3% for winery production, 30% for bottling, 27% for distribution and 2% for use/EOL.

Naturally, the primary difference for export supply chains was the increased percentage represented by distribution. For the same wine exported to the UK, distribution accounts for 41% of the carbon footprint, if exported to the US 42% and if destined for Canada 43%.  

For a bottle of Pinot Noir sold in a 75cl glass bottle, the carbon cost during maturation features in the overall carbon footprint. So, for a bottle of Pinot Noir sold in New Zealand, upstream agricultural production accounts for 33% of the carbon footprint, the production process for 2%, maturation for 35%, bottling for 23%, distribution for 7% and use/EOL for 1%.

For the same wine shipped to Australia, the breakdown is 29% for agriculture, 2% for winery production, 30% for maturation, 23% for bottling, 18% for distribution and 1% for use/EOL. Even with maturation as a sizeable proportion of the footprint, once wines are shipped for export, distribution still represents the largest contributor to the Pinot Noir wines. When the 75cl bottle of  Pinot Noir is exported to either the UK or the US, distribution accounts 30% of the footprint and if exported to Canada for 31%.

Research undertaken by the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER), a technical coalition comprising companies from all beverage sectors that seeks to quantify and address environmental impacts, divides the value chain differently. According to the BIER footprint study of a typical 75cl bottle produced in Europe, the bottle accounts for 45% of the footprint, agriculture for 10%, crushing, maturation and bottling for 24%, cardboard packaging 9%, transportation 5% and fermentation 4%.

The fact that in both sets of analyses such a significant percentage of the carbon footprint for wine lies in bottling and distribution presents an interesting challenge to the sector, which is explored in the final section of this briefing. However, it is fair to say that, in terms of addressing environmental impacts in the total value chain, the primary emphasis for wine has been on the agricultural supply chain. 

The particularly close links the wine sector enjoys with its agricultural suppliers - in many instances those companies that produce wine also farm the vineyards or at the very least have had long-term relationships with growers going back many years - have undoubtedly facilitated the process of improving environmental sustainability in the agricultural supply chain.

It speaks volumes that even the second largest drinks company in the world, Pernod Ricard, owns and farms 6,600 hectares of vineyards. So, wine producers large and small become involved and seek to influence and improve environmental stewardship in their agricultural supply chains in a highly engaged and active manner.

The role of generic wine organisations has also been vital in this regard. In France and elsewhere, the inter-professional bodies, which act as a bridge between those who grow the wine and those who produce and sell it, are in a sense tailor-made to coordinate the move towards greater sustainability and facilitate the greater engagement of wine companies with their agricultural production. 

Last year's briefing examined the environmental mission of the Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB) and the second section of this briefing profiles the ground-breaking sustainability certification programme now in place in South Africa.

For part two of this briefing, click here. For the full briefing, click here.