As we tuck ourselves into another harsh winter, the thing that keeps me going are the seasonal drinks—hot toddies, hot apple cider, eggnog, and of course, mulled wine. Yum.
But could even our favorite seasonal beverages be at risk from climate change?
We all know the facts about the big picture problems. Climate change is threatening the acidity of our seas, the sustainability of our food, and the biodiversity of our planet. Scientists predict mass migrations that will follow scarcity of drinking water, food, and shelter. We are not only at risk for losing our way of life, but also life itself.
In the face of all this danger, it may seem petty to think about climate change affecting our indulgent wines—but with wine forming a $30 billion industry, it too plays a powerful part in our economy and daily lives.
Here are 3 important wine industry factors for any wine-lover to consider:
1. Climate change could cause wineries to relocate, or go out of business.
You’ve probably heard of California wines—but what about Texas wines, or Connecticut varieties?
Grapevines are extremely sensitive to their environment and climate. Wine companies depend on their grapes to have a distinct and particular type of aroma, color, flavor, sugar content, complexity, balance, and structure. When the weather becomes unpredictable, as it has with climate change on the rise, grapevines and wine are at risk. If the grapevines experience prolonged high temperatures during the winter months, endure unexpected frost, dry out, over-ripen, or become vulnerable to pests and disease, it could mean disaster for established wineries.
If the climate continues to change rapidly, wineries will be forced to relocate their vineyards to locations that have the correct weather and environment—which is extremely difficult to predict and will potentially cost the business an incredible amount of money. In addition, in order the chase the correct climate, more specifically towards the poles, wineries will be tempted to cut into pristine forests and environments—such as Artesa Vineyards and Winery planning on chopping down the California redwoods.
2. Organic Wineries ≠ Organic Wine
With a changing climate, what’s a conscious wine consumer to do?
Many current sommeliers suggest supporting organic wineries or buying organic wines, from companies such as the Organic Wine Company.
What makes these kinds of wine different from others?
For wine bottles to bear the USDA certified organic seal, the grapes must be grown without pesticides, artificial fertilizers, fungicides, or herbicides. Certified-organic wines are also certified through the production process, and can’t be made with GMOs or contain added sulfites.
There are other certification boards that offer different wine bottle labels. Some bottles won’t say “USDA certified organic,” but will boast a “organic vineyard” label, which simply means that the vineyard uses certified eco-friendly products and practices—no pesticides are permitted. If wine bottles instead say “Made with Organic Grapes,” then the vineyards themselves are certified by the National Organic Program (NOP). Some processing additives (and sulfites) may be used in the production of the wine.
Organic wine is both grown and produced using sustainable practices that will guarantee it lasting for generations. Sustainable farming methods help reduce climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting biodiversity, and creating carbon sinks.
The key thing to remember is that organic grapes don’t always make organic wines. Even so, both types wines are smart for the environment—while organic wine may not necessarily be healthier for you, they are grown and produced with a clear level of attention to the needs of the land. In today’s changing climate, that level of care is essential.
3. The Trifecta of Ethical Wine Purchasing
Buying organic seems pretty restrictive—but it isn’t the only way to make sure that your classy dinner drink is responsible.
There are a few other key wine labels you can look for:
Sustainable refers to a combination of environmental stewardship, economic profitability, and socioeconomic equity. Sustainable doesn’t necessarily mean organic (although it can!), because farmers are able to decide themselves how best to handle environmental responsibility. This allows the farmers more freedom, but makes it more difficult to hold farmers accountable to their “sustainable” word.
If you are willing to support a California wine that cares about climate change and sustainability, you can check out a full list of Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing Participants. Another sustainable certifying body includes the Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine, which ensures that 97% of the fruit in the bottle comes from sustainable vineyards and the wine is produced in a facility certified by LIVE, USDA Organic, Demeter Biodynamic, and/or Food Alliance.
In the wine world, a vineyard that is self-sustaining is referred to as biodynamic. Biodynamic specifies the environmental advantages of using things like herbs, minerals, and manure for sprays and composts, and considers lunar cycles and astrological effects. Biodynamic wines are also made without common additives like yeast.
The Demeter seal labels each bottle of wine that has been approved biodynamic. For a list of certified biodynamic wines, check out the Demeter website.
These labels may be confusing, but they’re designed to help me (the wine customer), and for that, I’m willing to do a little extra research when I’m in the wine store.
I love wine—it’s one of my favorite ways to relax and celebrate with friends. But being a wine drinker and being an ethical shopper don’t have to be mutually exclusive. If climate change is set to affect every industry I love, it’s useful to know what steps I can take to ensure my purchases are sustainable.
Thalia Patrinos is known as Tippy to her friends, because she is light on her feet (and it’s easier to pronounce). She is a writer by day, fire dancer by night. Tippy floats between NYC, DC, and Baltimore—constantly trying to find ways to make her impact on the world small and sweet. Check out her performance troupe, or examine her other artistic creations via her blog or her Tumblr.