Glass bottles are traditional for wine, but glass is bulky and heavy.
Photograph: Cavan Images/Getty Images/Cavan Images RF
1 Wine is all ‘natural’ anyway … so what’s the problem?
Wine has a sense of romance that sets it apart from the likes of wheat, say, or potatoes, but it’s still an agricultural product that is, literally, rooted in the earth. The way a vineyard is managed matters every bit as much as with any other form of farming, and we can choose how “natural” its production is.
Consumers are confronted with a range of different options, but there are some key terms. “Organic” means the grapes are grown without the use of artificial pesticides, fungicides or herbicides, with certain additives also prohibited in the winery. To be sure your wine is organic, look for a logo indicating that it’s officially certified.
“Biodynamic” goes even further, as it follows the principles of philosopher Rudolf Steiner, based on the creation of a harmonious ecosystem in the vineyard. With adherence to a calendar of specific root, flower, fruit, and leaf days, the approach requires crop sprays made from natural products, such as nettles, and the burying of cow horns packed with fermented manure to improve the soil. Wines can be certified biodynamic by organisations such as Demeter, but some producers don’t bother, due to the cost.
“Natural wine” – AKA “low-intervention”, “raw” or even “naked” wine – can be a hornets’ nest, as it’s not strictly defined, but it basically entails a lack of intervention, meaning the avoidance of additives, filtration and inoculated yeasts, with minimal use of sulphur dioxide. This often results in cloudy wines and, sometimes, some unusual flavours.
2 Wine must be bottled at source
Wine has been shipped around the world since Roman times, it’s only the technology and the speed that’s changed. Though many wine region rules still dictate that wine is bottled at source, bulk shipping is big business with better green credentials. A tanker can ship more than twice the quantity of wine if it’s yet to be bottled, and it’s also much easier to keep the temperature stable during the journey, which helps protect quality and avoid waste. Because glass is heavy, it makes environmental sense to bottle wine as close as you can get to the customer, though this is still controversial with traditionalists.
3 Boxed wine is inferior
Wrong. Wine in a box can be better for the planet and can taste just as good as it does from a bottle, so long as you drink it before the recommended use-by date. Scandinavia has led the way with bag-in-box, with the format now accounting for more than half the wine sold in Sweden, but other countries such as Germany are catching on. It wins on convenience as it’s lighter to carry home and keeps fresh for up to six weeks, thanks to its airtight bag and tap. It is also much greener: based on its work with the Carbon Trust, Lindeman’s estimates that, per 750ml, boxed wine has a carbon footprint 40% smaller than the glass bottle equivalent, so expect to see new products to encourage us to think inside the box.
Boxes, plastics and even cans have their uses for packaging wine. Photograph: Nick David/Getty Images
4 Heavy bottles mean better wine
This one’s simple: the thickness of the glass has nothing at all to do with the quality of what’s inside. An empty bottle doesn’t need to weigh more than 400 grams to do its job, yet some can be almost a kilo. Given that production of glass and its transport around the world is the biggest contributor to a wine’s carbon footprint, it’s well worth lightening the load. Incidentally, Lindeman’s has now successfully reduced the weight of its bottles, without impacting their effectiveness.
5 Glass is better than plastic
Plastic gets a bad rap because, sadly, lots of it ends up in the sea. However, if PET plastic is recycled properly it can be turned into something new. In the Nordic countries, they use financial incentives and recycling rates are high. Plastic isn’t suitable for ageing wine but most of us buy it to drink, rather than laying it down, so plastic potentially makes a better bottle because it’s much lighter and a lot less fragile.
6 Wine shouldn’t come canned
Though still a novelty, the can is a brilliant vessel for wine because it’s portable, completely airtight, prevents “light strike” (where rays damage the wine) and it’s also easy to chill. Unlike glass, it’s also festival-friendly and permitted poolside, making it perfect for white or rosé. Though aluminium is carbon intensive to manufacture, its lifespan is potentially infinite so long as it’s recycled properly, meaning some serious wines are now being made available by the can.
7 Great wine needs a cork
Ignore the snobbery about screw caps; some producers choose them because they’re convenient and more reliable, as cork taint (caused by a chemical called TCA) remains a big issue for winemakers. Though there’s debate about the ageing potential of wine under screw cap, it’s used to protect some of the finest drops in Australia and New Zealand – including the entire Lindeman’s range. When it comes to their respective green credentials, it’s more complicated, because recycling isn’t always possible for screw caps as some have small plastic inserts, while a lot of cork actually comes from sustainably-managed forests.