Finding Wine's 'Green Line'

If you plan on celebrating Earth Day with a bottle of wine, you might want to pay as much attention to its carbon footprint as its taste. Depending on where you are, how that glass of red or white arrived at your table makes a big environmental difference.

Wine blogger Tyler Colman — popularly known as “Dr. Vino” — and sustainability engineer Pablo Päster studied how different methods of transportation affect the carbon life cycle of wine. Their findings were highlighted in the May 2009 issue of National Geographic.

Not surprisingly, Colman and Päster found “the greatest climate impact from the wine supply chain comes from transportation."

“This transportation impact begins with the delivery of agrichemicals, barrels, and bottles, but is primarily accumulated during the final product shipment to the customer,” they said in a white paper written for the American Association of Wine Economists (I'm not kidding — it's an AAWE-inspired report).

Not surprisingly, the study found that container ships were the greenest form of wine transport. Trucks were less efficient, and airplanes even worse.

So, if you're in New York City, it’s more environmentally friendly to sip Chateauneuf-du-Pape than a California Chardonnay. That’s because the French wine likely came to the Big Apple aboard a container ship, while the California wine was shipped by truck.

If you're in Chicago, however, the opposite might be true. That's because the researchers found a "green line" running from Ohio through the Southeast and across Texas beyond which it's more energy efficient to buy the wine shipped by truck from California. Here's how it runs:

The transportation impact on the carbon footprint of various bottles of wine was measured in pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent, an expression of greenhouse gas effects, and applied to a 750 milliliter glass bottle. A bottle shipped from Bordeaux, France, to New York by container ship had the smallest impact, 0.3 pounds, while a bottle shipped to New York by truck from the Napa Valley had the largest carbon footprint, 4.4 pounds.

Wines from Australia and Chile also had lower carbon footprints by the time they arrived at their U.S. destination than California wines, even though they travelled farther.

"Our results confirm that the carbon inputs of transportation support the finding that distance matters but mode of transport is still key," the researchers said. "While 'drink locally' is one finding that may not be problematic for residents of California or Bordeaux, it may give New Yorkers or Miamians pause."

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