The wine industry has been making increased efforts toward environmentally responsible practices and increased consumer and producer education on green issues, according to two recent UC Davis studies.
The annual studies – conducted by UC Davis professor Robert Smiley, director of wine studies in the Graduate School of Management – focus on the predictions and current undertakings of vintners, distributors and growers.
Smiley cited three incentives for why the wine industry has been making a shift towards more environmentally safe practices.
Wine growers have legitimate incentives to be good citizens and understand that they should not mistreat the land on which they grow and operate their business, he said.
Additionally, treatment of the land makes good business sense, as healthier land has long-term benefits in terms of the quality of the product.
Finally, producers said they hope that the movement toward eco-friendly practices tempts consumers to buy more wine.
“I think more wineries are using organic grapes,” Smiley said. “Consumers already feel that wine is a healthy product – but more wineries believe that organic products are more attractive.”
One of the two studies, the 10th annual wine executives survey, focused on the projections and opinions of 28 leaders of various wine operations throughout the United States. The second study included 73 professional representatives from wineries and vineyards across California.
All companies interviewed are currently involved in some aspect of “green” business behavior, according to the study.
“I was surprised at the depth and level of green business practices out there in the wine industry, and especially at the length of years many of these programs have already been in place,” said Alison Crowe, the graduate research assistant to Professor Smiley. “Specific things many of the respondents are doing include using solar power, using biodiesel to fuel their truck fleets and tractors, employing LEED-certified green building, using lighter-weight packaging, practicing waste-water management and turning to sustainably grown grapes and vineyard practices.”
Study participants acknowledged that there is a distinct disconnection between the industry and the consumer base about the meaning of many commonly used terms.
“What we find is that there is no good definition and no good understanding between green, biodynamic, sustainable [and] organic,” said one of the executives interviewed in the study, all of whom spoke with Smiley anonymously. “So we’re trying to come up with a cohesive and meaningful answer to the marketplace when they ask about our level of green involvement. The issue is semantics and we want to be honest and accurate.”
The studies also demonstrated an increased effort by wine producers to communicate environmental efforts to consumers. This endeavor is meant to help wineries avoid being accused of “greenwashing” – the act of “talking green without being green,” according to one of the surveyed executives.
Additionally, there have been increased calls for alternative packaging in the face of economic stress, Smiley said.
Currently, 40 percent of the cost for shipping a case of wine is due to the weight of traditional glass bottles. Alternatives under consideration are consumer-safe PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic bottles and “cask” wines, which are plastic bags in a box. Both would reduce the cost of shipping significantly, Crowe said.
However, the ultimate economic results of this trend are untested.
“They are considering lighter packaging as energy costs rise,” said Smiley, “but will consumers buy it? Do they associate glass and cork with quality?”
RITA SIMERLY can be reached at email@example.com.