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Page last updated at 10:20 GMT, Thursday, 12 June 2008 11:20 UK

Quaffing the future

Woman picks grapes

By Rami Tzabar

Enjoy a nice glass of Australian Chardonnay? Global warming could change the way you drink.

Global wine production is under increasing pressure from rising temperatures and water shortages as climate change takes hold in vineyards across the world.

But wine is going green as producers, shippers and retailers look for ways of reducing the carbon footprint of the world's favourite tipple.


Performing miracles has become routine for Australian winemakers as a decade of drought and increased regional temperatures has seen this year's annual grape harvest fall by 30% below average, though it turned out better than originally predicted.

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The worst affected area are the wineries around the Murray Darling river basin, which represent the powerhouse of Australian winemaking in Victoria and New South Wales. This is where the millions of litres of cheap Australian Chardonnay and Shiraz are produced that sit on our supermarket shelves.

But that could all change if temperatures continue to rise, making it too hot to produce good quality grapes in sufficient quantities. Amy Russell, the natural resource manager of the Winemakers Federation of Australia, says: "Overall production is decreasing in volume and the shift is going towards the quality products rather than high volume products we've been known to export in the past."

Southern Spain, California and France are also predicted to have the same problems.


But as some countries produce less, others will try and take up the slack.

"Other countries of the world will take that slot - Chile and Argentina in particular where there's a far lower cost of production," says Alun Griffiths, Berry Bros and Rudd's director of wine.

Vines in Sussex
Wine will be made in new areas

In a report the wine merchant is predicting the rise of Brazil, Russia, India and China as producers.

One group of winemakers already reaping the benefits of rising temperatures are growers in the North-western areas of North America and even Canada. Harry Peterson Nedry runs a winery called Chahalem.

"Right now we're sitting back fat, dumb and happy... we're seeing the benefits of global warming but I don't think it'll stop there and I'm already moving production to higher elevations, to areas that weren't grape growing areas when I started out 30 years ago."


Whilst grape growers and wine makers do their best to adapt to the changing environmental conditions, other part of the industry have discovered that reducing their carbon footprint has significant benefits for the bottom line too.

Transportation is a huge part of the wine supply chain, both economically and environmentally - particularly for a country like the UK which imports over 99% of the wine we drink - the equivalent of 1.8 billion bottles each year.

Absolutely Fabulous
Britain drinks plenty but grows little

One of the options being introduced for cheaper wines is bulk shipping. Instead of bottling the wine at the winery, it's pumped into a giant plastic containers known as a flexitanks, which hold, on average, the equivalent of 32,000 bottles of wine. Already supermarkets like Tesco bulk ship all their own-label wines which are then bottled locally on arrival in the UK.


And there is a shift towards lighter bottles. A scheme called GlassRite, set up by Wrap, the Waste and Resources Action Programme, in 2006, set out to encourage the creation and use of new ultra-light glass bottles.

The industry average is around 500g though many of the more expensive wines come in at nearly 800g. "The heaviest weighed in at 1.2kg," says Andy Dawe, Wrap's glass technology manager. That's before the wine goes in.

However WRAP, working with Kingsland Glass, have designed new bottles that are both substantially lighter but just as tough. The result is a bottle weighing just 300g.


One other problem that bulk shipping will solve is what to do with the UK's green glass mountain. A million tonnes of it enters the waste stream each year but the fact is very little of it can be recycled as supply outstrips domestic demand. Most of our glass manufacturing is based around clear glass so creating a local light-bottling industry would not only make use of this surplus but also create jobs.


Another innovation already sneaking it way on to the supermarket shelves are different alternatives to bottled wine. Consumers are already used to wine boxes but tetrahedral cardboard packs, plastic pouches and even aluminium cans are being marketed as a new environmentally friendly way to buy your booze.

Wine bottles
Some bottles are heavier than others

Dan Jago, head of beers, wines and spirits for Tesco, thinks the consumer is ready. "We will see a significant shift towards other packaging, like PET plastic bottles and bag in box, but I think Tetra Paks particularly, which are the things you get your orange juice in, and which weigh less than an eighth of a current glass bottle, will become more acceptable to consumers".

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