In Australia, green wine is good

BRISBANE, Australia — The tourism mantra for Queensland, known internationally for its sunny climate, pristine beaches and Great Barrier Reef, has long been: "Beautiful one day, perfect the next."

Unsurprisingly, this state — which takes up the entire northeast corner of the country and has a relaxed, vacationer-friendly atmosphere — has contributed much to that great Aussie reputation for weathering a hot day with a cold beverage.

So the government’s decision to launch a carbon-footprint policy for householders, urging people to reduce carbon emissions by cutting energy and reducing the impact of household goods and services, presented a challenge that the liquor industry here seems only too happy to meet.

If successful, this might make a big impact on the national carbon footprint, since the Aussie wine industry sells about 1.23 billion liters a year, a third of which Aussies account for and two-thirds of which goes offshore, fetching an average $AUD3.24 a liter.

Americans drank 236 million liters of the stuff in June this year, slightly less than the British effort of 265 million liters, according to official figures from the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation.

The Australian Federal Department of Climate Change boosters its program by saying its "greenhouse friendly" labeling offers wine producers a competitive edge, mainly because the so-called Australian Greenhouse Office supports them by promoting those companies which gain certification.

This competitive edge will be especially handy given the news this week that Australia has been ranked as the world’s No. 1 per capita carbon emitter in a report from the Maplesoft analyst company.

An unscientific review of the latest offerings at Aussie liquor stores and coffee shops revealed there’s already plenty of “green” to choose from.

Among those putting an environment-friendly face on their products are several industry giants, including Yalumba and Wolf Blass, as well as smaller outfits such as Zilzie Wines and breweries such as Lion Nathan.

Yalumba’s Y-series now comes with a little green tag on the neck which urges drinkers to "share Yalumba, share the future," and lets the drinker know that the company’s green venture has won several awards: the Green Apple U.K. award 2007 ("an international award for environmental best practice"); a climate-protection award from the United States Environmental Protection Agency; and from the Australian Greenhouse Office, a gong for being a leader in greenhouse management 2005.

Airline travelers have been quaffing from plastic mini-bottles for years but now Wolf Blass has gone mainstream plastic with its new 750ml Green Label.

It calculates that its new PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic bottle packaging produces 29 percent less greenhouse gas emissions over the entire life cycle of the product, i.e. the grape growing, the wine making, bottling and packaging, distribution, and use (that's the buyer) disposal and recycling. Part of this is because (the company says) the product is 36 percent lighter and 100 percent recyclable.

Wolf Blass rolled out its new product to journalists and political types during Treasurer Wayne Swan’s Budget road show earlier this year. It’s a noticeably shorter and thinner bottle without the chunkiness of glass.

And there’s no familiar clinking of the bottles in the car on the way home from the liquor shop.

Zilzie Wines, of Karadoc in northwest Victoria’s Mildura region, claims to be carbon neutral with its Bulloak brand (a chardonnay and a cabernet merlot).

The label says it "represents our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in every step of the winemaking process — from vineyard to your table." 

The label also says that "the emissions that we couldn’t reduce by being more energy efficient we have offset by contributing to accredited carbon reduction projects ensuring that Bulloak’s net impact on the environment is reduced to zero."

New on the block is the environment-friendly Barefoot Radler beer from multinational giant Lion Nathan.

This promises "carbon-neutral" beer and carries a "greenhouse-friendly" label from the Australian Government’s "Climate Friendly" program.

And that’s not all, their website shows the company has a pool of money to the tune of $100,000 for volunteer "Coastcare" groups to preserve and restore local coastlines.

They’re in on the packaging too: "The Barefoot Radler beer carton is made of 100 percent recycled material, the six-pack carton is made of 75 percent recycled material, and the bottle is made with a minimum of 30 percent recyclable material."

Competitor Fosters Brewing has its own green venture: Cascade Green, "100 percent carbon offset." And healthy too: it’s marketed as a “low-carb” brew.

We’ve been hearing something similar for more than 10 years, but with a different accent, from the folks at Banrock Station, another property on the banks of the Murray River and one of the earlier adopters of the "green" labeling trend.

Banrock Station drinkers can feel good about helping preserve wetlands and a swag of threatened species such as birds, fish and frogs around the world.

Of course, green labeling is about green production and according to the latest Greenpeace report on climate change and wine, Australian wineries stand to benefit most from all this, while European wineries stand to loose. Cheers!

(John Cokley researches and teaches journalism at the University of Queensland, Australia, and Louise Kuchel researches and teaches biology at the University of Queensland.)