So you want a low-carbon holiday wine

Wine snobs can now add another ‘c’ to complexity, color, and character: Carbon.

Assuming you drink only California or French wines — and really, what else is there? — you need to think about a wine’s carbon footprint. And that takes us to the “wine line”:


In an article on greening at your holiday dinner, The Washington Post notes:

Organic wines don’t generate significantly fewer greenhouse gases than conventional wines, in part because grapes require relatively little fertilizer and fewer pesticides compared with other crops. But where the wine comes from matters.

The story then cites a 2007 study by the American Association of Wine Economists (links below) — and you thought there weren’t any smart economists in the world:

… it is more green for a Washingtonian to drink a bottle that arrives by ship from Bordeaux, which generates 1.8 kg of greenhouse gases, then one from California’s Napa Valley, which because of the long truck trip generates 2.6 kg. The efficiencies of shipping apply to the entire East and Gulf coasts. Buying larger bottles also helps reduce carbon emissions.

Perhaps you thought that shipping by train might make a big difference. Apparently not, says, run by one Tyler Colman, who started with a “Ph.D. dissertation on the political economy of the wine industry in France and the United States,” and ultimately co-authored the aforementioned study.

This guy is no slacker. According to his website:

On July 1, 2008, the University of California Press published my first wine book, Wine Politics: How Governments, Environmentalists, Mobsters, and Critics Influence the Wines We Drink. On November 11, Simon & Schuster will publish my second wine book, A Year of Wine: Perfect Pairings, Great Buys, and What to Sip with Each Season.

Two books in one year — and he keeps up a blog and teaches and tastes some 2,000 wines a year? He has humbled us all.

If you are among those obsessed by their carbon footprint, you can read his post “Calculating the carbon footprint of wine: my research findings” and then download the study itself “Red, White and “Green”: The Cost of Carbon In the Global Wine Trade.” The study is absurdly detailed and very well sourced.


17 Responses to So you want a low-carbon holiday wine

  1. llewelly says:

    Quite happy with Colorado wines, thank you. If you don’t like them, I’ll just put it in a different bottle before you come over. You’ll never know the difference.

  2. Donald B says:

    While maybe not the equal of the best of France or Italy, there are more than decent wineries on the East Coast: two (one making sparklers served in the White House and chardonnays in a Chablis style) in Massachusetts, one in Connecticut and more than one in the Hudson Valley and multiple ones on Long Island.

    New Mexico has a winery making a number of sparklers that compete with the daily sparklers from the Loire (e.g., Vouvray) not to mention Champagne.

    For wines that do not have to deliver a “best in the world” taste, but a good one, local CAN deliver the goods. But it does take some searching.

    But for deciding between wines of equal costs and quality, particularly at the upper extremes, the criteria presented here does make sense.

  3. paulm says:

    This should be posted in humor.

  4. David B. Benson says:

    Wahington State and Oregon make quite decent wines; as good as Napa Valley. Ok ones arrive here from Australia, but I have trouble finding Okanagan wines or Chilean whites.

  5. paulm says:

    Keidanren Tells Japan’s Salarymen to Work Less, Have More Kids
    ..”Japan’s biggest business organization, is worried the nation’s workers aren’t having enough sex…”

    Confusing messages.
    Aren’t we suppose to be reducing population to save the world?

  6. AlexJ says:

    “What else is there”? Well, it’s been awhile, but last I tasted, some of the Oregon pinots were excellent.

  7. Rick says:

    the carbon thing – just one more reason to drink beer instead of wine

  8. Dan Borroff says:

    Yesterday I looked for wines for an early T’day dinner with friends who are headed out of town – to California – for Thanksgiving.

    Half the California wines were 14% – 16% alcohol. 20 years ago this was not the case. These high alcohol wines may have lots of flavor but they overwhelm Turkey dinners. They have little capacity to age since the alcohol doesn’t go away as tannins and fruit mellow.

    Tincture of Cabernet is not a good thing.

    California wineries are worried, as are Australia, Spain, Italy, northern Africa, and many other locations. Meanwhile robust reds are being made in interior British Columbia, formerly white wine only territory.

    Let’s hope we have a viable wine industry in 10 years.

  9. David B. Benson says:

    Gareth — Its been years since any local distributor carried New Zealand wines; I used to like those on occasion.

    I also forgot to methion wines from Idaho. Now yet world class, like the Washington State whites, but still very good.

    About alcohol content: Australian, Washington State and Idaho wines are all right around 12%. I’d tell you about that value for Okanagan wines as well, but it seems the Canukes drink it all up, leaving none for their neighbors immediately to the south. :-(

  10. RB says:

    What other kinds are there?? There are Texas wines and they are quite good. You need to redraw the line.

  11. Adam says:

    Joe, stick with the large-scale solutions to our large-scale problems.

    These trivial differences, in the end, won’t deliver change on the scale that is actually needed. Importing wine across the Atlantic (for more than just a rich minority) will never be sustainable in the true sense of the word. Just another form of greenwashing if ya ask me…

  12. Joe says:


    I think this sort of stuff is interesting.

    The big picture stuff is the most important, obviously, but over the next quarter-century as we become increasingly desperate to reduce carbon emissions and adopt strong regulations and a high carbon price, everybody will be focused on their own individual carbon footprint whether they like it or not.

    A lot of non-rich people drink foreign wine — and they certainly buy foreign goods. I think the point you miss is that “importing wine across the Atlantic” is not elitist from a carbon point of view as you seem to imply because shipping is very low carbon.

  13. Albert says:

    Virginia has some good wineries too. And Pennsylvania is apple country — mmm, hard cider.

  14. David B. Benson says:

    Water transport is very inexpensive on a tonne-kilometer basis.

    Dig more canals.

  15. paulm says:

    Joe I have to disagree with you on the shipping. It might be relatively cheaper, but surely in absolute terms the carbon footprint is totally inappropriate consumerism.

    [JR: The point of this exercise is that certain intuitions or quote common sense” are wrong. Shipping is better climatewise per mile than trucking.]

  16. paulm says:

    Well, long haul trucking will have to go too!