French vintners are beginning to get serious about measuring and then reducing their greenhouse-gas emissions, experimenting with a variety of environmentally friendly philosophies. They worry that their grapegrowing microclimates are at risk from global warming.
Producers in Champagne have outlined a plan to reduce emissions 25 percent by 2020, based on a study conducted by their representative trade organization, the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC). "We want to pull the whole Champagne community toward better practices," said spokesman Daniel Lorson. But for some, the goal is set too far into the future—individual producers are already examining their options for becoming carbon neutral.
"We reduce, when it's possible, the level of emissions, and in fact, we've worked toward this for a lot of years," said Thierry Gasco, winemaker at Pommery, which is working to make a complete carbon assessment and is using the ISO 14001 toolkit, an internationally recognized standard for reducing emissions at a business without harming profitability or growth. "We educate all our workers to reduce the electric consumption—to shut off the lights when there's nobody in an office, or shut down the computer."
Pommery uses green energy, supplied by French producer EDF, in a contract where the supplier is obliged to produce an identical amount of "green" electricity, produced by wind turbines, for every kilowatt consumed by the Champagne house. Pommery is also working to reduce the number of transport trucks it uses—a challenge, considering the rise in demand for Champagne. "Since the beginning of this year, we started encouraging the movements of our staff by train rather than by car," Gasco said. "We are also studying the possibility of giving our commercial team hybrid cars." Charles Heidsieck, Louis Roederer, Laurent-Perrier, Piper Heidsieck, Ruinart and Veuve Clicquot are also measuring carbon output in an effort to reduce emissions. Moët & Chandon has hired a director of sustainable development to oversee the house's environmental practices.
Going green for winemakers is not a small decision. The main incentive for winemakers is to help prevent temperatures from continually inching upward. Many winemakers believe harvest is coming earlier with each passing year.
But many lament the amount of time, money and effort it takes to go carbon neutral—absorbing as much carbon as they produce. It means recycling every scrap of paper, re-using every drop of water and counting each kilowatt of power in the winery. Some winemakers don't believe they can afford it. Another complaint is that switching to carbon-neutral status does not automatically lead to a rise in sales. Consumers sometimes choose wines that are organic or biodynamically grown, but don't look for carbon-neutral wines. Meanwhile, some argue that going completely neutral is impossible.
"Carbon neutral? You would have to stop breathing to become carbon neutral," said Thibault Despagne, a winemaker in St.-Emilion who works for his family label, which owns five properties in Bordeaux. "But we can measure our carbon emissions in an effort to reduce them, in line with the ISO 14001 philosophy." Under the ISO 14001 system, a business will plant trees or contribute to the regeneration of a biosphere, in order to have flora and fauna consume the same amount of CO2 emitted by their business activities. Another option is to purchase so-called carbon credits, where a business essentially pays another company to do the above activity for them.
Despagne, like many members of this new green revolution, would rather do the dirty work on his own. He has planted sunflower fields in order to provide his vineyard tractors with a source of biofuel. He is also recycling water, when possible, as well as plastic and cardboard.
Despagne decided to change his practices when an environmental analyst came to his estates to develop a strategy to reduce the amount of chemical spraying required in the vineyards. The analyst explained that cleaner air also meant cleaner soil, which taken together, would improve the quality of the vines and create better-balanced wines.
Despagne, who produces around 170,000 cases a year, also persuaded one of his clients, British Airways, to allow his wines to be bottled in lighter containers. Less fuel is required to freight the wines around on flights, and the amount of greenhouse gases released from airplane exhaust is lower. Such decisions, he said, are the "only rational way to go," if Bordeaux intends to "pass on to the next generation of winemakers a good earth."
The idea seems to be spreading among other families in the region, he added. "Reducing carbon output will be the next big thing in Bordeaux," he said, "and we have a lot of ideas on how to do it."
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