Monday, August 11, 2008

Wines for Climate Change

I've been asked a dozen times how I spent my $100 “Climate Action Dividend.” Most of these queries were preceded with a do-gooder pitch by various charitable organizations wanting my money.

But this “windfall” is part of the provincial government’s new green agenda and while the powers that be can’t dictate how you use it, the rebate was intended to help you take a step toward a lower carbon lifestyle. The government even set up a website called Smart Choices BC which offered suggestions on how to spend the money in an environmentally sustainable way, from buying energy-efficient light bulbs and installing low-flow shower heads to shopping locally for produce.

I liked that idea – which is why I blew the whole wad on B.C. wine.

For years, particularly in the last decade, Canadian wines have struggled for global recognition. In fact, just last week, I saw a news story about an alliance of B.C. and Ontario wineries, known as the “Eh Team,” which is trying to get their wines on restaurant lists around the world.

But the Canadian industry’s dismal beginnings with the likes of Fuddle Duck and Hot Goose and its relatively small size have caused it to be overlooked, even dismissed at times. Thus it has come to depend heavily on domestic sales to stay afloat. Famed wine critic Jancis Robinson said as much in an article she penned for the London Financial Times. “Canada doesn’t make anything like enough wine to supply their own market, let alone export in any meaningful quantity.”

Indeed, producers of Yellow Tail, one of Australia’s largest export brands, likely spill more wine in the making of it than we produce in this whole country. Robinson’s article, while she praised many of the Canadian products she tasted as being “world-class wines by any point of view,” was on the whole scathing, mainly toward the industry’s size, its minimal international presence and the seemingly overblown pride we Canucks have in our domestic product.

But given the current climate, local producers find themselves in a rather enviable position – a veritable win-win situation loaded with irony.

First of all, global warming is heating up B.C. vineyards and extending the growing season allowing vintners to plant varieties not previous thought to thrive here. Cases in point are Zinfandel, Malbec and Syrah. Plus an adoring domestic marketplace means most B.C.-produced bottles don’t make it beyond the borders of Canada’s two most westerly provinces.

Meanwhile, other winemaking regions are feeling the heat, literally. I received a press release on the subject of climate change from the makers of Yellow Tail, which acknowledged that areas previously too cold to produce wine, such as England, are now “sprouting vineyards left and right.”

“That’s great for them, but warmer regions like Australia may face threats due to climate change, like rising alcohol levels in its wine and irrigation problems.”

In the same release, Yellow Tail producers insist they are working on doing their part to reduce carbon emissions and reverse the effects of global warming. They insisted that since they ship their wine by sea to North America drinking their products is a carbon-wise option.

“For the eco-friendly consumer, Yellow Tail is not only the enjoyable and economical wine choice, but also one of the greenest…the wine is packed efficiently into containers, wrapped in an insulating blanket, trucked from Yenda (in New South Wales, Australia) to a port, and loaded onto a container ship. The Pacific journey takes about 33 days to Los Angeles. From there the container is loaded on a train or truck and sent to Chicago.”

Uh-huh. Let me mull that one over a glass of Pinot Noir from an Okanagan winery five kilometres from my door.

Yellowtail’s PR campaign might seem ludicrous at first glance, but it’s a pitch being looked at by many overseas wineries that depend heavily on exporting to the lucrative North American market. A growing number of green consumers who consider miles traveled when selecting a bottle could spell problems for those producers with virtually no domestic market to speak of – like Yellowtail.

Yellowtail’s position is backed by a paper called, Red, White and “Green”: The Cost of Carbon in the Global Wine Trade, written by Dr. Tyler Colman, who produces a wildly popular wine blog called Dr. Vino.

Colman and his colleague came up with a “green line” for purchasing wine in the U.S., which cuts through the mid-west. “For points to the west of that line, it is more carbon efficient to consume wine trucked from California. To the east of that line, it’s more efficient to consume the same sized bottle of wine from Bordeaux, which has had benefited from the efficiencies of container shipping, followed by a shorter truck trip.”

This “green line” starts in middle Ohio and kind of zigzags it’s way south, making it impossible to predict on which side you may fall as a Canadian. But bloggers on Colman’s site and other wine discussion boards said that consumers should look to regional producers if it’s a lower carbon footprint is what they’re after.


While B.C. wineries might have some work to do in the eco-friendly department on their own turfs, those who choose to sip domestic juice can at least feel good about the fact their bottles didn’t spend a month in transit to get to their table.

1 comment:

Bijou Living said...

Great suggestion!
Can't wait to read more of your posts!