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Making and marketing wine requires lots of energy. Producing and transporting glass bottles (empty and full), cooling wineries and warehouses, running tractors in vineyards, sanitizing fermentation tanks and barrels all consume considerable amounts of electricity, fuel and water. Some wineries are taking substantial measures to reduce the environmental impact of all that energy use.

Jackson Family Wines began auditing its energy and water use and carbon footprint in 2008. The family-owned company includes 40 wineries—the Kendall-Jackson and La Crema lines are the best known—in California, Oregon, France, Italy, Australia, Chile and South Africa. Total annual production is about 5 million bottles.

Katie Jackson, senior vice president for corporate and social responsibility, described her company’s efforts during a climate change symposium at Vinexpo in Bordeaux in May, and subsequently in an interview. The company began installing solar panels on winery roofs in 2012, and now produces 7.1 megawatts of electricity each year, a third of its electricity needs. Jackson said the company will install more solar panels to capture an additional 3 to 4 megawatts by the end of next year to achieve its goal of being self-reliant for 50% of its energy needs.

Other efforts include using ultraviolet light instead of water to sanitize fermentation tanks, wind power instead of water for frost protection, installing cooling towers for barrel rooms and capturing rainwater. The company has reduced water use by 60%, averaging 29 million gallons saved annually since 2008.

Perhaps the greatest impact came from reducing bottle weight by 2 ounces over the Kendall-Jackson and La Crema lines. The bottle for the K-J Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay went from 19.5 ounces to 17.5 ounces, and the La Crema chardonnay and pinot noir bottles dropped from 20.5 to 18.4 ounces.

“Looking at our greenhouse gas emissions, we found that nearly half of our carbon footprint was from bottles, because the energy used in producing glass is very high,” Jackson said. By reducing bottle weight, “we were able to reduce our overall emissions by 4%.” And even though the company was concerned about market impact because consumers supposedly think heavier bottles signal higher quality, “nobody seemed to notice,” she said.

Such efforts require investment, of course, but they ultimately result in savings. “We buy glass by the metric ton, not by the bottle,” said Julien Gervreau, vice president of sustainability for Jackson Family Wines. “Shaving two ounces per bottle off 85% of our production saved us about $1 million a year.” The solar panels save about $9 million over four years, he added.

“We look for areas where sustainability and good business practices intersect,” he said.

These efforts are not just looking inward, but globally as well.

After wildfires in late 2017 devastated Santa Rosa, Calif., where Jackson Family Wines is headquartered, Julia Jackson, Katie’s sister, launched a foundation called Grounded to spread awareness of the need for corporations and individuals to take action against climate change. Grounded held a two-day conference in Sonoma County in March.

Also earlier this year, Jackson Family Wines joined forces with Familia Torres, one of Spain’s leading wine companies, to create International Wineries Against Climate Change, to promote best practices and standard metrics for measuring progress.

Miguel Torres, the fifth generation (and the fourth Miguel) to lead his family company, spoke at the Vinexpo symposium about his family’s efforts to reduce its environmental impacts at its wineries in Spain, Argentina and Chile. Those efforts include installing 18,000 square meters of solar panels, reducing bottle weight and recycling, he said.

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The Porto Protocol is another wine industry group fighting climate change. Based in Porto, the city at the mouth of the Douro River in Portugal famed for port wines, the group was founded by Adrian Bridge, CEO of the Fladgate Partnership, which includes the Taylor Fladgate, Fonseca and Croft Port houses. Bridge credits the inspiration for the effort to Britain’s Prince Charles, who required the Fladgate group to conduct a carbon footprint assessment as a condition for continuing to sell its ports to the British royal family, as it had for generations. Former president Barack Obama spoke at the group’s initial conference in 2018, and former vice president Al Gore at the follow-up conference in March.

The efforts I’ve described are aimed at reducing energy use and carbon footprint in wineries, and telling others of their success. These companies are also changing the way they farm. That’s for another article.

You may have noticed a theme: These are all family companies, concerned about heirs rather than stockholders, that have grown to a size where they can be leaders and influence the way their industry approaches an existential threat.

“We are a 327-year-old company,” Bridge told me this year during a visit to Washington. “We are used to looking at the long term. Despite globalization, wine is still a family-oriented business, often passed down through generations. It is the only branded agricultural commodity where you know where it came from and who made it—it’s right there on the label.

“We have to take care of it.”

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