Connect to share and comment

Chile: wine for the environmentally conscious

Vineyards are beginning to figure out how much fine wines contribute to climate change.

And many vineyards, like De Martino, Emiliana, Cono Sur and Concha y Toro — Chile’s main wine producer and exporter — have switched to lighter bottles that use recycled glass and labels. 

“It isn’t cheap, but it’s an investment priority. It will be ultimately compensated, because consumers, especially in Europe, care about which producers are neutral or are working to reduce their emissions," said Alejandra Lapostol, head of the sustainable development committee at Cono Sur.

"The industry is fully aware that if we don’t measure our carbon footprint and do not shift to sustainable production, we aren’t going to be able to sell our wines,” she said.

But Chile is facing a predicament that is beyond the control of any exporter: A considerable proportion of the country’s energy sources are heavy contaminants. About 18 percent of the country's energy comes from oil and about 9 percent from coal, and those numbers are only trending upward. From 2000 to 2010, the use of geothermal energy rose about 15 percent, at the expense of hydroelectricity. 

Moreover, a controversial thermoelectric plant project, now in the last stages of environmental assessment, will practically double the amount of coal-based energy in the future. The coal- and petcoke-based Castilla plant to be built about 500 miles north of the capital will supply energy to two-thirds of the country, right through wine-producing lands, weighing on the carbon footprint of every bottle produced.

“It’s easy to talk about diversifying energy sources but renewable energies are expensive. So the country has to decide: Do we want to produce with a lower carbon footprint or do we want products that are more price-competitive?” asked Rodrigo Valenzuela, who consults for nearly 10 Chilean vineyards and works for the consulting firm Deuman, which specializes in climate change and energy.

Major supermarkets and retails stores around the world, such as Tesco in the U.K., Casino in France and Walmart in the United States, are already using voluntary carbon-labeling schemes, pressuring suppliers to adopt more sustainable production practices.  

“Walmart is saying that if their suppliers are not sustainable, they won’t place their products on their shelves. Walmart has pledged to diminish its emissions and to achieve it, has to make its suppliers do the same,” said Lapostol.

Chilean wine producers know they need to invest more and “Innovate or Die” seems to be their motto. 

"We need to be proactive and not wait for these regulations to be mandatory and turn into market barriers," said Juan Somavia, managing director of Wines of Chile, an industry association representing about 95 percent of producers. "When these demands come into effect, we are going to be prepared.”