September 14, 2008

Red & White is Going Green

A t Red & White we are always trying to find ways to improve the company but to be honest, because we are a young company, the majority of improvements are made simply to allow us to survive. Yet there comes a point when the environmental impact of our daily lives becomes impossible to ignore.

The inevitable discussion has ensued of how we can become a "greener" company. Small we might be, but there is no morality in disposing of cardboard and glass bottles through the normal trade waste collection system, so we have moved to a recycling company for cardboard, paper and glass. But what about what we sell? Could we look more closely at the environmental impact of our product mix?

Over the past three years Red & White has focused on supplying wines to the hotel and restaurant trade in the South West, but we are increasingly working with private customers and much of our success has come through our various mixed cases.

And so the Green Case was born - 12 different bottles, all of which have been chosen to highlight areas that focus on the "greener " aspects of the wine industry.

We began by looking at wines from producers who have concerns about the use of artificial chemicals in grape production and winemaking. One is organic, one biodynamic and the other follows a system known in France as Lutte Raisonee.

Organic wines are made from grapes that are cultivated without recourse to synthetic fungicides, herbicides or fertilisers. It should be noted that 'organic wines' are made from organically grown grapes, but chemicals may be used in the winemaking process.

Biodiversity is encouraged by creating a friable soil, rich in worms and bacteria, from which the vines draw maximum levels of minerals whilst becoming naturally resistant to disease and drought. The followers of the "biodynamic principles" established by Rudolf Steiner take winemaking to the extreme, in a holistic approach that combines traditional self-sustaining agriculture with the forces of the cosmos. It is controversial in its dramatic opposition to modern scientific agricultural practices, yet its adoption by many of the world's finest winemakers does gives it credence as they continue to create outstanding wines.

Making wines organically is not an option open to everyone, certainly in areas prone to rot and disease. Winemaking is a business and sometimes the risks involved in organic viticulture are not a realistic option. Lutte Raisonee or "reasoned struggle" is based on finding a balance. It says yes, we want to keep chemicals to a minimum, we want a rich and tolerant soil full of microorganisms and we find systematic spraying abhorrent. But we will not let our grapes die when seasonal conditions play against us; we will intervene when necessary.

Packaging is an issue and the use of glass in wine bottling puts it in the spotlight.

Glass is incredibly environmentally unfriendly; heavy to transport and poorly recycled, especially in the UK. In this country we recycle more green than clear or brown glass, whereas packaging companies in the UK use more clear and brown glass than green. This is because it is the imported products such as wine and beer that are bottled in green glass. As a result, almost all the green glass we attempt to recycle ends up in landfill. If you want to be green in the UK, avoid green bottles! Light bottles are a more environmentally friendly option but better still are plastic bottles or tetra packs - coming to a shop near you soon.

The argument over cork versus screwcaps also rumbles on. Screwcaps seem to be winning most debates on their ability to reliably seal a bottle of wine and indeed they can defend their environmental standing for the aluminum used is recyclable. Cork gets little support these days but production at least ensures that the natural habitats of cork forest are preserved. In Portugal, the world's largest producer of wine grade corks, the forests not only contribute strongly to the local economy but are also habitats to the likes of the Iberian eagle and Iberian lynx.

The concept of "food miles" applies as much to wine as it does to food. Transporting wine across the world burns up a lot of fossil fuels and consequently contributes to global warming. The concept of 'food miles' and sustainability has led to a general movement towards local production and consumption. Buying 'local' is a philosophy that has been widely adopted for food in the South West, so perhaps it should also be a consideration with wine?

However if the idea of drinking wine exclusively from your local vineyard does not appeal, then perhaps buying from a winery that offsets its carbon production is a more realistic approach. There is also a move towards wineries now planting trees in addition to their vineyards to gain 'carbon neutral' accreditation. Other alternatives being used include shipping in lighter weight bottles or shipping in bulk and bottling in the UK, both better for the environment.

Fair-trade is another concept that few of us would argue with. The guarantee that the producing nation receives a fair and rewarding deal from the products it sells to the privileged Western world is hugely important. Certain countries, South Africa for example, have made much of this importance but one should be aware that fair-trade should apply across the world, especially in poorer nations such as Argentina, who have less of a "voice" to spread the awareness of their plight.

The Green Case has made us consider what we buy, how we transport it and how we sell it. But as with anything we do, the wines have to succeed on the tasting table before we consider other factors. I believe many of the options the winemaker currently has will in the future be regulated, as we are increasingly forced to consider the environmental impact of all our decisions.

Liam Steevenson MW runs Red & White:

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