Which aspect of winemaking has the greatest impact on the environment? Are you curious about the difference between sustainable and organic winemaking? What are the six pillars of sustainable winegrowing leadership?
In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I’m chatting with sustainability expert Anna Brittain.
You can find the wines we discussed here.
Join me on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube Live Video
I’ll be jumping into the comments as we watch it together so that I can answer your questions in real-time.
I want to hear from you! What’s your opinion of what we’re discussing? What takeaways or tips do you love most from this chat? What questions do you have that we didn’t answer?
Want to know when we go live?
Add this to your calendar:
- How did Anna realize she wanted to dedicate her career to environmental work?
- What drives Anna to work in climate action and sustainability within the wine industry?
- What does it mean to be voted as “the most intriguing environmentalist”?
- How did the global pandemic contribute to the worst moment in Anna’s wine career?
- What was the impact of COVID-19 on consumer investment in sustainability and climate action?
- What was it like to put together the first climate and wine symposium?
- Is wine production bad for the environment?
- What does it mean for the wine industry to be a leader in soil-to-bottle sustainability?
- What are the biggest misconceptions about sustainability?
- Why did Anna create the six pillars of sustainable winegrowing leadership?
- How can you distinguish between sustainability, organic, and biodynamic practices?
- Why are there so many different organic certifications in the US?
- How can vineyards optimize irrigation systems and water use?
- What does it take to start dry farming?
- How can energy efficiency potentially produce cost savings for vineyards?
- What do wineries need to think about when it comes to waste management and supply chain emissions?
- Is it irresponsible for wineries to continue to use extremely heavy-weight bottles?
- Anna provides an excellent global view of wine’s impact on the environment rather than just focusing narrowly or organic winemaking or sustainability. I was surprised how dramatic the savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars and reduced environmental impact that energy efficiency has.
- She gave us a clear definition on the differences between sustainable and organic winemaking. I think most people might assume that wine made organically is also farmed sustainably, but that’s not always the case.
- She also presents clear and compelling facts such as that 40-50% of the emissions from a winery operation come from packaging and distribution alone. I also didn’t realize that styrofoam can’t be recycled and it has toxic chemicals in it. It ends up in the landfill and it sits there for a thousand years and it can leach into the groundwater. That renews my determination not to buy those extra heavy glass bottles and instead buy more wine packages in cans or boxes and to tell wineries to stop using styrofoam.
Start The Conversation: Click Below to Share These Wine Tips
I believe we have to act with urgency. Let’s make change; let’s commit to action. - Anna Brittain Click to tweet
Often, there isn’t a clear channel to how you get to places. It’s a lot of kind of unexpected steps along the way. - Anna Brittain Click to tweet
We’re trying to set the highest bar for sustainability and climate action in the global wine industry. - Anna Brittain Click to tweet
Energy efficiency is one of the biggest ways to cut your bottom line. - Anna Brittain Click to tweet
40-50% of the emissions from a winery operation come from packaging and distribution alone. - Anna Brittain Click to tweet
About Anna Brittain
Anna Brittain has worked locally, nationally and internationally on environmental management and policy with organizations ranging from the environmental economics think tank Resources for the Future in Washington, DC to the International Union for Conservation of Nature in Hanoi, Vietnam. She has spent over 12 years facilitating and growing sustainability in the wine industry, with an expertise in communications and certification standards. Anna has served as a lead sustainability consultant with Ontario Craft Wineries, Sustainable Winegrowing British Columbia, Crimson Wine Group, the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, and individual wineries including Benziger Family Winery and Seghesio Family Vineyards. Voted Most Intriguing Environmentalist, she has helped lead the growth of the Napa Green program since 2015, and stepped into the position of Executive Director of the now independent non-profit in fall 2019. Anna has a Master’s of Environmental Science & Management from the Bren School at UC Santa Barbara and a BA in Political Science and Environmental Studies from Williams College.
- Connect with Napa Green
- Bill McKibben’s Book | The End of Nature
- Upcoming Launch Events for Wine Witch on Fire: Rising from the Ashes of Divorce, Defamation, and Drinking Too Much
- Virtual Online Wine Tasting – Thursday, November 9th at 7 pm
- Treat yourself and your friends to a live online wine tasting and inspirational conversation between Menna Riley and yours truly about my powerful new memoir. All you need to do to join this private online party is purchase wine from one (or more) of the following top-notch wineries:
- Diary of a Book Launch: An Insider Peek from Idea to Publication
- Wine Witch on Fire Free Companion Guide for Book Clubs
- My Books:
- Unreserved Wine Talk | Episode 16: Are Organic Wines Better for You?
- My new class The 5 Wine & Food Pairing Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Dinner And How To Fix Them Forever
Tag Me on Social
Tag me on social media if you enjoyed the episode:
- @nataliemaclean and @natdecants on Facebook
- @nataliemaclean on Twitter
- @nataliemacleanwine on Instagram
- @nataliemaclean on LinkedIn
- Email Me at [email protected]
Thirsty for more?
- Sign up for my free online wine video class where I’ll walk you through The 5 Wine & Food Pairing Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Dinner (and how to fix them forever!)
- You’ll find my books here, including Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines and Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass.
- The new audio edition of Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass is now available on Amazon.ca, Amazon.com and other country-specific Amazon sites; iTunes.ca, iTunes.com and other country-specific iTunes sites; Audible.ca and Audible.com.
Anna Brittain (00:00):
On average, 40 to 50% of emissions from a winery operation, including the vineyard, come from packaging and distribution alone. So the boxes, what’s in the boxes, and then getting the glass to your facility, and shipping that out to your distributors, your retailers, your customers, your wine clubs. That is often half of the entire emissions footprint of winery. So we work with our members really closely on green packaging. They’re not allowed to use styrofoam except for rare exceptions.
Natalie MacLean (00:30):
Oh, that’s good. That stuff’s so annoying. It goes all over when you open the box.
Anna Brittain (00:34):
It’s everywhere and it can’t be recycled and it has toxic chemicals in it. It ends up in the landfill and it sits there for a thousand years and it can leach into the groundwater, so got to get rid of the styrofoam.
Natalie MacLean (00:52):
Do you have a thirst to learn about wine? Do you love stories about wonderfully obsessive people, hauntingly beautiful places and amusingly awkward social situations? Well, that’s the blend here on the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast. I’m your host, Natalie MacLean, and each week I share with you unfiltered conversations with celebrities in the wine world, as well as confessions from my own tipsy journey as I write my third book on this subject. I’m so glad you’re here. Now pass me that bottle please and let’s get started.
Welcome to episode 258. Which aspect of wine making has the greatest impact on the environment? Are you curious about the difference between sustainable and organic wine making? And what are the six pillars of sustainable wine growing leadership? In today’s episode, you’ll hear those stories and tips that answer those questions in our chat with Anna Brittain, the Executive Director of the Napa Green Program. she’ll chat about how wine can make a positive impact on our planet.
The first I’d like to share a short snippet from a longer review by Mira Miller in the Globe Mail this past weekend. “In her new memoir, Wine Witch on Fire, Natalie MacLean holds herself and the rest of the wine industry accountable. She talks about wine mom culture, sexist marketing, and how to cut back without going sober. It is a more personal, vulnerable story than her previous works”.
If you’ve read the book or are reading it, I’d love to hear from you at [email protected]. If you haven’t got your copy yet and would like to support it and this podcast that I do on a volunteer basis, please order it from any online book retailer no matter where you live. Every little bit helps spread this message. I’ll put a link in the show notes to all retailers worldwide at nataliemaclean.com/258.
Several listeners have emailed me recently because they’re curious about what goes on behind the scenes in making this podcast. I’m going to keep this high level, but if you want to know more, feel free to email me at [email protected]. First, I am always on the hunt for great guests, people who can tell us vivid colourful stories about wine that both entertain and educate us. These can be winemakers, sommeliers, chefs, wine writers, celebrities who own wineries, and others who have a passion for wine. That research usually takes me about an hour or two each week. Next, I pitch the podcast to these people or their agents and we go back and forth multiple times on recording dates and the focus of the interview. I’ll spend another 10 hours or so listening to any previous podcasts they’ve been on, reading articles or books they’ve written, and then drafting my own questions for our conversation. The recording session takes about two hours because there’s discussion before and after I hit that record button.
And then my wonderful podcast editor and sound engineer. Alexandra Stennett spends hours editing the conversation, deleting ums and ahs, fixing sound levels if they’re different between the guest and me, eliminating background noises and editing any gaps in the conversation due to technical errors. She sends the edited conversation to me and then I write an introduction and a closing based on this tape. This includes the preamble that I’m doing right now plus the key takeaways at the end. This is a vital feature and worth that extra step because, for me, reinforcing the learning points at the end helps me remember them. And like you, I believe I’m always thirsting to learn more about wine. So this writing and recording takes about another hour. I send this second recording back to Alexandra who edits the intro and extra into the main tape, adds the music at the start and end, and then uploads the final version so that all the various podcast players from Apple and Spotify to Amazon Music and iHeartRadio publish it on the same day consistently for you. And by the way, that’s Wednesdays at 3:00 AM Eastern hashtag Wine Wednesday.
Alexandra also creates a blog post for the show notes for each episode that is really comprehensive. It has an edited transcript for those who prefer to read rather than listen, or for those who want to go back and find some pieces of the conversation that they want to remember or note for various reasons. She includes links to all the wines, books, gadgets, and other resources mentioned, as well as any giveaways and the guest social media contacts, et cetera. She also creates an audiogram, which is a one minute audio clip that I’ve selected that best represents. This audio clip is incorporated into a graphic and then text and hashtags are added to create social media posts on all major platforms, and we tag all the guests as well. There’s a lot more technical detail that I won’t go into in terms of editing the audio of the main conversation, the audiogram, the texts and transcripts as I think you probably get the idea of how involved this process is.
Each episode requires at least 18 to 22 hours of work. The podcast costs me $20,000 a year in editing production and hosting fees, which I pay for out of my own pocket, and this doesn’t count my own time. You may have noticed that more and more podcasts these days have advertisers, and increasingly there are multiple ads per episode that start, interrupt and end them. Two of my favorite podcasts on NPR average about eight to nine ads per episode for the past six years. From 2018 to 2023, I have kept my podcast ad-free and continue to pay for it personally. This may change in the future, though I don’t have any specific plans for that yet. I don’t break even on the costs even when I talk about my book. I’ve also tried to make my book updates conversational about the journey of writing it, and many listeners have said that they want to know what’s happening with the book.
Since publication, the journey really does continue. aAs you know, and as I’ve mentioned, I’ve put my whole heart into this memoir. It is a 10 year labour of love and more than a book for me. It’s a message of hope, justice, and resilience. So I am committed to continuing to talk about it and further spread that message. However, if you want to skip these updates, several podcast apps allow you to change your settings and skip intros, including this preamble. Most apps allow you to click fast forward over parts you don’t want to listen to. That said, more than 80% of each episode discusses media issues such as how to avoid fake wines, try new Australian wine regions, et cetera. Per our recent topics, I know that wine is a passion for many people including you, since you’re listening to this, as it is for me as well.
However, it is also how I earn my living as wine isn’t just a hobby for me. I’m a freelance journalist who doesn’t work for a big corporation. So I hope you’ll keep that in mind when I continue to talk about my book and courses and even better support them by buying them so that I can continue to create this podcast for you. Okay, on with the show.
Anna Brittain. Her work on environmental policy has ranged from a Washington-based think tank to an international conservation union in Vietnam. She has also facilitated sustainability in the wine industry as a consultant to Ontario craft wineries, Sustainable Winegrowing British Columbia, the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, and individual wineries. Voted the most intriguing environmentalist, she has helped lead the growth of the Napa Green Program since 2015 and is now the Executive Director. Anna has a Masters of Environmental Science and Management from the Bren School at the University of California at Santa Barbara and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Environmental Studies from Williams College. And she joins us now from her home in Napa Valley. Welcome, Anna. It’s great to have you with us.
Anna Brittain (09:38):
Good morning. Thank you for having me. Or good evening as it will be when this is launched.
Natalie MacLean (09:42):
That’s true. We’re timeless on the web. So we’re here, there, and everywhere. So before we dive into your wine career, were you interested or were actively involved in environmental projects or issues as a child or a teenager?
Anna Brittain (09:58):
I think for me just, nature has always been sort of my sacred space, and I definitely went off to college interested in studying environmental science. I think I really had a wake up moment for me when I read a book by Bill McKibben called The End of Nature. I remember where I was standing on campus reading this book and it was really hitting home. The climate crisis as it was going to escalate and I just realized that’s what I have to dedicate my career to in some sense. I didn’t realize I was going to come home to the Napa Valley and to wine, but I knew that that was the space I was going to work in.
Natalie MacLean (10:34):
That’s great. And what motivates you personally to do this type of work? I mean, it’s good work that’s obvious but what drives you for this as opposed to, I don’t know, some other kind of good work?
Anna Brittain (10:46):
Yeah, I mean I’m definitely not the kind of person that can just do any job. I have to do a job I’m incredibly passionate about, and a job where I feel like I’m making real change. And as you were reading my bio, I’ve worked internationally, nationally, locally, and I just came to feel like working, kind of boots on the ground in this case, with wineries and vineyards was the way I could see the most direct impact and change and really be involved in helping people along this journey when what you’re working on is making wine and when you care about climate action and sustainability and social equity, but it can feel a little overwhelming to put on another work hat to be there to help people along that journey in addition to their day-to-day work.
Natalie MacLean (11:28):
Now you were voted the most intriguing environmentalist, which sounds like international woman of mystery. What makes you the most intriguing environmentalist? What was the criteria for that?
Anna Brittain (11:39):
Well, that was a local publication and an honour. They just put out a list of the 20 most intriguing regional people each year. I think that was 2021. I think probably part of why I got some notice and votes is I really believe we have to act with urgency and I’m a pusher. Let’s make change. Let’s commit to action. Let’s make impact. I’m willing to take risks. I don’t take a lot of nos for an answer. So I think that got me some attention and it’s just a fun. Most intriguing, who doesn’t want to be a most intriguing.
Natalie MacLean (12:11):
Its very ntriguing. You sound like a soul sister. I don’t take no for an answer either to the annoyance sometimes of some people.
Yeah, of some people. Absolutely.
Get things done.
Anna Brittain (12:21):
Oh, well. [laughter].
Natalie MacLean (12:23):
Alright, so take us to the worst moment of your career. Where were you, and maybe what did you learn from it?
Anna Brittain (12:29):
Well, so Napa Green used to be under the umbrella of the Napa Valley vintners, which is an association of the majority of the wineries in Napa County. And I worked with them as a consultant to grow the program. But in 2019, we decided we really needed to become an independent nonprofit for various reasons, including wanting to open some new fundraising avenues. But we didn’t really make that announcement until the end of February 2020 and we’re starting to try to share that message that a really significant transition has happened. And then Covid hit and talk about competing for any kind of airspace or attention and certainly a lot of anxiety that was sustainability was climate action going to go on the decline in terms of people’s concern as they were facing this global pandemic? What was it going to mean for a new nonprofit? Certainly, what was it going to mean trying to raise funds for a nonprofit in a space when all of that was happening?
And so that was scary. It was definitely scary, but honestly I think interestingly I still don’t fully understand why, but we’ve seen nothing but an increase not only in industry, but in consumer investment and sustainability and climate action. I feel like Covid maybe woke a lot of people up to I can’t just think about my little piece of the world. I have to think bigger. I’m part of a much bigger system and I have to think about – which I hope we’ll talk more about – how can I use my purchasing power to support the most conscientious businesses? And we want to get people to do that more and more in the wine space. And so actually since then we’ve been able to triple the budget and quintuple the staff. And so it’s really been a huge growth and success, not without its challenges but it’s interesting to think back to three and a half years ago and just how much has changed.
Natalie MacLean (14:23):
It’s interesting that you note that because I find that some businesses that were born in the pandemic or tried to make major changes in the pandemic really came out of it so much stronger. I mean, the challenge was so immense. There were bookstores that opened and restaurants that opened in 2020 and it was like how did you manage?
Anna Brittain (14:42):
Not all of them made it.
Natalie MacLean (14:44):
That is true but some of them did. If it doesn’t kill you. Now, would that also be your best moment or would you highlight a different moment in terms of the best of your career so far?
Anna Brittain (14:54):
I would highlight a different moment. I had Martine Reyes, who’s a Master of Wine, come to me in 2021 talking about doing some type of climate symposium. And I said, of course. I’ve thought about doing this, but it’s a huge undertaking. If you really want to throw down and help with this undertaking, then let’s go for it. Really still didn’t know the immensity of what we were taking on. And so we launched our first climate and wine symposium last year and we pulled it off again this year. And it’s over 60 speakers, over 40 sponsors. This year we had 750 guests across the six half day events that we do. And I remember this year standing up, I saw the photographer taking photos and I thought, I need to pull her up to the front of the room. We need to turn around and look back and just to turn around and look back at the crowd of people. I think almost 200 people in the room that day and not just having those people there and invested, but so many of them were about action, were about impact. And so constantly we’re asking throughout that event commit to action. And we had dozens of commitments to action. So knowing that people were there to carry this forward and make change and know that they had the support of everyone in the room, that felt like an immense achievement.
Natalie MacLean (16:11):
That is powerful. Wow. In retrospect, would you have done anything differently to get where you are today to land in this place?
Anna Brittain (16:18):
I think so. I mean, I think the past was the past. It’s over and what happened to get you where you need to be. And I’m happy. I certainly did not always know that this was where I was going to end up. I get a lot of requests now for informational interviews and young people that would like to be working in the space. Sustainable wine growing sounds pretty sexy. And they’re asking me how I got here, and it’s really been a lot of unexpected steps along the way. So there isn’t a really clear channel to how you get to places oftentimes.
Natalie MacLean (16:49):
Absolutely. So before we dive into the really truly great work that you’re doing, let me play devil’s advocate for a moment. Is the wine industry actually good for the environment? Because we’ve heard stories, planting vineyards can result in deforestation or disturbing the natural habitat. Grapes do take a lot of water in areas of drought. There are issues of chemical runoff from irrigation. Wine isn’t something we need to survive. It’s a luxury consumable. Should we be discouraging its growth. Anyway, going to. Before I get off this soapbox, what do you think?
Anna Brittain (17:21):
Yeah, that’s a big question. That could be an entire conversation. It takes me back to, I think it was my first year of college. I was asked to write a paper about a place that was important to you. And I wrote a paper about the Napa Valley and I shared it with my mother, and I’m sure she said something like wonderful paper. But what was notable about what she said was, Anna, I’d sort of painted this bucolic natural picture of the valley and she said, you realize this is all manmade. This isn’t nature. These vineyards aren’t nature. And it was really like, oh wait, I knew that, but I hadn’t really internalized that.
I mean, first of all, vineyards are here. They’re not going away. I certainly need my wine. It’s not a want to need. And I think part of why I work in this space is that the wine industry is at the peak of the agricultural pyramid. So we’re relatively small, very small in the full scheme of agriculture, but we’re leaders. And what we do here has a reverberation and impacts other parts of the agricultural sector. And so as we can be leaders in what we call soil to bottle sustainability and regenerative farming and water efficiency and energy efficiency and social justice and caring for our teams in climate action, that gets noticed. I know it gets noticed. I get calls and emails saying, how can we do this kind of work? How can we collaborate with you?
Natalie MacLean (18:46):
And why is the wine industry a leader? Okay, so it’s getting noticed, but why wine? Why are people in other agricultural sectors looking at the wine and thinking, what are they doing?
Anna Brittain (18:56):
Well, I mean, I would say arguably we’re the premier agricultural product. I mean, what you get for premium wine grapes is about the highest you get for any agricultural product. I think we’re on par with some of the really high level of nuts like almonds and pistachios and things like that. But you can get a lot of money for these Napa Valley grapes as I’m sure you know. And so we’re at that premium echelon and we have a really unique relationship with our customers. Someone who’s growing soy or lettuce or something isn’t sitting down and sharing the terroir of their product with someone at their property. We’re hosting people who are seeing the farm in the background, who we can take them out into the farm and make the connection between what’s in the glass and the practices that are happening in the farm.
So I’ll admit – contentiously probably – I’m not sure how many more vineyards or wineries we really need. But we want to influence that continued stewardship in the best example possible. We say we’re trying to set the highest bar for sustainability and climate action in the global wine industry. And so anyone who’s developing redeveloping see the model and the example of how to do that with the highest level of responsibility and conscientiousness.
Natalie MacLean (20:12):
That’s a great answer. Wow. It’s almost like you might’ve been asked about it before, but it’s certainly great framing. I appreciate it. So what do people misunderstand about sustainability? It’s one of those big words that gets thrown around. What is the first biggest misconception?
Anna Brittain (20:29):
Great question. I think sustainability means, honestly sometimes we wish we could shift to a new term. In some cases it’s really been misappropriated. It’s been watered down. It’s been what we call sometimes greenwashed, where people say they’re doing a lot more than they really are. And it’s hard for people to get behind the veil, behind the screen, and find out what’s the truth behind the claims that people are making. But it’s still the term that’s being used internationally.
And so as I’ve thought about this I thought well then we need to filter for what is true sustainability leadership. And so I came up with this concept several years ago of the six pillars of sustainable wine growing leadership. And other than the farming element, these pillars are applicable to any industry and anyone thinking about sustainability. So we really say you need to be thinking from the field through production. Soil to bottle. And you need to be thinking about water efficiency and energy efficiency, waste prevention, soil health, and proactive farming as we call it, social justice diversity inclusion, which is very foundational to environmental and economic sustainability, but it’s gotten kind of lost in some of these sustainability conversations. And all of that rolls into climate action and what we call regenerative agriculture, which I’m happy to talk more about what we mean by that.
But I see that as sort of a filter to say, is this really leadership? Is this really true systemic climate action and sustainability? And so it’s not a little piece here or there. You don’t just recycle and put some solar on your building and say I’m sustainable. This really is a whole systems approach that has to be taken.
Natalie MacLean (22:10):
And then the other thing that people often sort of are murky about is the difference between say, sustainability and organic or biodynamic wine making or viticulture. What is the big difference there?
Anna Brittain (22:23):
One of our most common questions. So I mean both organic or biodynamic are only focused on the farm. So in terms of if you’re thinking about any kind of environmental stewardship, there’s nothing related to the production or distribution side, which is a really critical impact in terms of sustainability and climate action. It’s only for the farm, and particularly in terms of organic, it’s just pretty narrowly focused on don’t use synthetic pesticides. That can mean some other beneficial practices. But I mean it’s pretty clear. And maybe one of our challenges, which is part of those six pillars, is that we’re really thinking whole systems and we’re thinking across all six of those categories.
So organic isn’t looking at resource efficiency. Organic isn’t looking at social justice. Organic isn’t looking at climate action. So while I think it’s incredibly valuable and we have many members who are organic, that’s really like a pretty initial stepping stone on a true sustainability leadership journey because you could be organic and you could still have poor water efficiency. Your bottles could be 900 grams, which we might talk more about. You might not be taking care of your people. You could have a really incredibly high carbon footprint or greenhouse gas emissions. And be organic. So we have to think a lot bigger than just that critical element, but it’s one small piece of the bigger conversation.
Natalie MacLean (23:42):
And how about the reverse? Do you have to be organic to be considered sustainable?
Anna Brittain (23:47):
You don’t. So we do have a prohibited and restricted pesticide list, but we’re more of sort of a pathway to organic. So we don’t require full organic. And part of that is exactly what I was just saying. We’re trying to work with people so comprehensively and if we set that bar just in that one sector too high, we’re losing a lot of people and a lot of positive impacts that they can have across all of these areas that we’re working on. So we really do work with people absolutely to minimize pesticide and herbicide use and be very thoughtful about that application. But we don’t require organic. We do have a gold level of our program where we do give added recognition to those that are, in addition to all the other things, also organic.
Natalie MacLean (24:30):
Okay. Now why are there six different certifications for sustainability in the US that create a lot of confusion?
Anna Brittain (24:36):
And I think actually there might be eight now because there’s a new program in Washington and a new one in New York. I would say a couple reasons for that. We do constantly get asked about why can’t you just have one certification? To me, that’s really how systemic and how rigorous are the programs. We’re trying to set the highest bar. So several of the programs are only for the vineyard. We really want to be looking soil to bottle. Again, I’m going to keep saying that. So from the vineyard through the winery through production. And some of them just aren’t setting as high of a bar as we want to set. But beyond that, of course each region has really different issues, some of a lot of similar issues, but some different issues and priorities. And so that’s why some of the programs have some different emphasis.
And for us critically, and I think for several of the programs, being boots on the ground is so important. I can’t tell you. We provide so much direct support, so much direct handholding sometimes pulling that we wouldn’t have nearly as many members and nearly as many people involved if we weren’t here on the ground supporting them in this process. And so I think that’s a really key piece of the puzzle. And as you mentioned, I’ve worked on both of the Canadian programs as well. There is, depending again on your filter for sustainability leadership, there’s 12 to 20 programs worldwide. So it’s important to have that regional presence and that regional leadership I think.
Natalie MacLean (26:00):
And when you say boots on the ground and handholding, what’s a practical example of how you’ve done that with the wineries who are part of your program?
Anna Brittain (26:07):
Yeah. Well, so it’s not going to sound super sexy, but every single one of our wineries has to go through what we call an integrated resource audit. We have an engineer that goes out and we baseline everyone’s energy use, everyone’s water use, everyone’s waste diversion meaning how much they’re recycling and composting won’t go too technical, but their scope one and two emissions. So we’re looking at a portion of their carbon footprint, and then we’re tracking that over time. We’re looking at the whole facility. We’re giving them recommendations, any and all improvements, and really focus also on helping them reduce the bottom line. So as you save energy, as you save water, then saving energy, all of that’s also cutting the cheques that you’re having to send out to your utility every month. So that’s on the winery side.
On the vineyard side, every single one of our vineyards, we go out and do a carbon farm assessment. So we’re looking at everything they’re currently doing, cover crops, tillage, tractor passes, biodiversity, hedges, trees, things they have around the vineyard, compost use. And then we’re giving them a report of the positive impact of those practices, including the carbon storage in the soil. And then we’re talking about what more they could do. And there’s a tool out there that actually provides really rigorous estimates of how much more carbon they could store. And it also has all of these other soil health, water retention, biodiversity, resiliency benefits. But that’s another really key piece of the puzzle is that farmers have a really proactive role they can play in climate change mitigation. The International Panel on Climate Change has named these kind of nature-based solutions, as they call them, one of the top five ways to fight climate change. So again, in our little apex of the agricultural pyramid, are we going to store all the carbon in the soil? No, we can set that example for others in agriculture who can start doing those same practices and can be a huge part of the solution.
Natalie MacLean (28:00):
Okay. So let’s talk about those six pillars because I think it makes it really clear this soil to bottle that you’ve referred to. So maybe you can walk us through step-by-step of what these six pillars are. And maybe a practical example, potential benefits or cost savings. Whatever you like. So where shall we start?
Anna Brittain (28:21):
I usually start with water because at least here in California, water is a pretty scarce resource. We know at this point we’re going to pretty consistently be in ever more extreme drought cycles. And so we focus on water use on both the winery and the vineyard. But of course, vineyard water use is higher. And relative to other agricultural crops, I do have to point out grapes are quite efficient actually because true premium grapes benefit from reduced deficit irrigation as it’s called. So they don’t want too much water that will reduce the quality. But one example of something that we do there is we go out – and again speaking to boots on the ground – we go out and do an irrigation assessment. So basically all premium wine grape growers now use drip irrigation, which is pretty efficient. But those systems need to be constantly analyzed to make sure they’re still working as best as possible and evenly distributing the water, which is really important.
You want all the vines to be getting the same amount of water. You don’t want one getting way more and one getting almost none. That’s really critical. And that right amount of water at the right time is actually very critical to the grape quality. So those connections there. So we’re going out and evaluating those systems and finding any issues with the emitters, any issues in pressure, any issues in distribution, and helping people make sure those systems are as efficient as possible and using water as efficiently as possible. But again, benefits there. This ties in so immensely directly to quality. So that’s an example on the water side.
Natalie MacLean (29:53):
And do you encourage dry farming as well? No irrigation.
Anna Brittain (29:56):
We do have some members that practice dry farming. I think there’s some misunderstandings around dry farming. I think some people think you can just turn off the tap. You know what, now I’m going to start dry farming. And that is not how it works.
You really have to very intentionally design, in this case a vineyard, to be dry farm. You have to be thinking from the very beginning about the orientation, the soil type, the type of root stock you’re using, a whole number of factors. So we only have a handful of members dry farming because they made that decision from the second they were planting that vineyard that they were going to do it in that way. So I think a growing interest in doing that as people replant. We actually have one member right now doing a replant to create a dry farmed vineyard, but it’s not like you can just decide tomorrow in a kind of typical vineyard that you’re just going to stop irrigating. So it needs to be very specifically timed in terms of amount and timing and that’s what we’re really trying to work with our members on.
Natalie MacLean (30:55):
And then in the winery. I think you’ve mentioned instead of washing tanks out, you expose the tanks to UV light to clean them. How does that work?
Anna Brittain (31:03):
Well, that’s one option. So we’re always also looking at the latest technologies, the latest options to reduce the use of water. And so there is a technology out there, and this was actually one of the things that came out of our Rise Climate Symposium. We had a few members commit to trying out this technology called Blue Morph. And so it’s a technology put in the tank and essentially it does kind of a UV cover that sanitizes the tank without having to use any water. Whereas typically sanitation – tank cleaning, barrel cleaning – is the highest use of water in the winery other than sometimes landscaping, depending on how many rose bushes you’ve got outside.
Natalie MacLean (31:40):
That’s true. It can get quite fancy. These wineries with their gardens and everything else out front of the winery tasting rooms.
Anna Brittain (31:49):
And their lawns…
… and their fountains,
And fountains, yes. Those are the areas, the highest water use areas, in the winery are tank cleaning, barrel cleaning, and landscaping. Absolutely. So there’s other things like there’s new kind of, I hate to call it chemicals, but new sort of cleaning products that you can use that cut water use needs by 50%. So we’re always trying to share those kind of opportunities. So certainly not all of our members are using UV technology yet, but that’s something that more and more people are using to reduce that water use.
Natalie MacLean (32:17):
Okay. And should we go on to the pillar number two?
Anna Brittain (32:21):
Yeah. So energy. Energy is one of the biggest ways to cut your bottom line. It’s one of the biggest ways you can save money. We all know, right? We’re paying pretty high energy bills every month. And so when we go in and do that baseline, there’s an example I love to give. There’s a whole number of examples, but I’ll give one where we were looking at two wineries making about 20,000, 25,000 cases. And one of them was using 8 kilowatt hours per case and one of them was using 28 kilowatt hours per case. And we can show them that difference. Here’s someone, not that everyone can do all the same things, but here’s someone making the same amount of wine as you – also an ultra premium wine – using 20 less kilowatt hours per case. And the remarkable thing to note there is that delta amounts to over $140,000 a year
Natalie MacLean (33:09):
In savings, cost savings, my goodness.
Anna Brittain (33:12):
So then hopefully in that case, people’s eyes get a little wide and they say well what can we be doing differently? So we pay 140,000 less dollars per year. And I think a lot of people think that we come in just saying you’re going to have to spend a whole bunch of money and buy a whole bunch of new technology. And honestly, we’re talking about a lot of monitoring and maintenance. So we’ll find there are things like updating your lighting to LED and those types of things, but it’s more than equipment monitoring and maintenance. And those paying attention, being diligent, those are some of the biggest ways to say certainly technology plays in sometimes, but it can feel like a hard topic. People aren’t really drawn to talking about energy efficiency, but then we try to really get those dollar signs to be part of the focus.
Natalie MacLean (33:59):
That gets more interesting, I’m sure. And I love your phrase don’t solarize your inefficiencies. So starting a more systematic, more ground up before you just plop on solar panels or whatever. There might be other things you can do first.
Anna Brittain (34:12):
Yeah, we’ve seen a number of wineries where they just put on a huge system, which is more expensive, bigger footprint. And we come in and their energy efficiency is very low and you need to maximize this first because then the size of the system and the investment is a lot smaller and it can cover more of your energy use needs. So even when people have done that, we say it still makes sense to improve your efficiency, then that system can cover more and more of your energy use needs. So yeah, it’s a fun phrase that a former business partner of mine came up with, don’t solarize your inefficiencies. Right?
Natalie MacLean (34:46):
Absolutely. So does that cover off the energy pillar?
Anna Brittain (34:49):
I think that’s a good example. Yeah. If I went too deep, we could be talking for six hours.
Natalie MacLean (34:53):
Let’s keep going.
We won’t do that.
Speaking of sustainability of this conversation. Sustainability…
Anna Brittain (34:59):
And time. Well the next one we really focus on is waste management and supply chain. And I think this is a really interesting area because we know from doing what’s called a greenhouse gas inventory of many wineries where you’re saying where are the emissions coming from in this operation? We know that on average 40 to 50% of emissions from a winery operation, including the vineyard, come from packaging and distribution alone. So the boxes, what’s in the boxes, and then getting the glass to your facility, and shipping that out to your distributors, your retailers, your customers, your wine clubs. That is often half of the entire emissions footprint of winery. So we work with our members really closely on green packaging. They’re not allowed to use styrofoam except for rare exceptions.
Natalie MacLean (35:48):
Oh, that’s good. That stuff’s so annoying. It goes all over when you open the box. It’s everywhere.
Anna Brittain (35:53):
And it can’t be recycled and it has toxic chemicals in it. It’s not a good thing. It ends up in the landfill and it sits there for a thousand years and it can leach into the groundwater. So got to get rid of the styrofoam.
Natalie MacLean (36:05):
Oh yeah, absolutely. I’ve heard 90% of glass is not recyclable. Is that true or is that…
Anna Brittain (36:11):
That is not true. So glass is infinitely recyclable. It’s actually one of the most recyclable materials out there, but we’re pretty abysmal at recycling it. So right now, Canada’s probably doing better than us, but right now in the US we’re only at about 30% glass recycling.
And so this is something we’re actively working to try to improve right now actually in California because it is such a highly recyclable material and it does have such a huge carbon footprint. So just the glass alone I’ve seen some places where it’s 30% of their footprint is just the glass. It takes a lot of energy to produce glass because takes a lot of energy to distribute that glass. So that’s another area we’re working a lot with members on is that kind of misnomer got set up by someone, I don’t know, 20, 30 years ago that a bigger heavier bottle meant a better wine. And it’s just absolutely not true. And so I have an example, I should have this slide, but I don’t where I show people bottles that you can’t tell the brand. And I say, guess which one you think is the most expensive? Most people choose what looks like the biggest, bulkiest bottle. And then I turn it around and that bottle is actually the most affordable bottle and one of the most expensive wines in the lineup, which is Dominus which is one of our members, is using the second lightest.
Natalie MacLean (37:32):
Anna Brittain (37:33):
And that makes a huge difference not just on, sometimes you can save money on reduced glass use, but it means fewer shipments, it means less heavy shipments both in and out. And so it can have a really big impact on reducing the emissions and the costs of shipment as you lighten your glass weight. So there’s all these other benefits, and again, that’s why we’re really trying to be systemic in how we think about this.
Natalie MacLean (37:57):
Yeah, because that seems to be one of the biggest things, and especially those really deep punts, those indents on the bottom of a bottle, which used to be for pouring, but I think now they’re just for aesthetics. So do you think it’s irresponsible for winery still to be using these heavyweight bottles?
Anna Brittain (38:12):
Yes. To be using the extremely heavyweight bottles, yes. Absolutely. And the thing is too, I worked as a consultant with Benziger back 15 plus years ago on changing over some of their glass. And one of the things we were able to show when we brought in a whole lineup of the current bottles and some new options was sometimes you can make changes that aren’t even perceptible. We brought in a lineup of bottles and they couldn’t tell the difference. So sometimes it’s like a small change to the punt and reducing the shoulders a little bit and you can do things that you almost wouldn’t notice that can dramatically reduce the weight of the bottle. So like Jackson Family story, you might’ve heard when they decided to lighten glass weight, it mostly was reducing that punt. They still had a punt, but it was reducing that and that saved weight that I think it cut their emission something like 4 or 5%. It also saved them over a million dollars in glass costs because they make so much wine.
Natalie MacLean (39:08):
Right, the scale.
Anna Brittain (39:09):
So the savings are there, too.
Natalie MacLean (39:12):
Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed our chat with Anna. Here are my takeaways. Number one, Anna provides an excellent global view of wine’s impact on the environment rather than just focusing narrowly on organic winemaking or sustainability or other individual aspects. I was surprised how dramatic the savings can be into the hundreds of thousands of dollars for an average size winery when they are energy efficient, and of course that reduces their environmental impact. Number two, she gave us a clear definition on the differences between sustainable and organic wine making. I think most people like me originally might assume that wine made organically is also farmed sustainably, but that’s not always the case. Number three, she also presents clear and compelling facts such as that 40 to 50% of emissions from a winery operation comes from packaging and distribution alone. I also didn’t realize that styrofoam can’t be recycled, has toxic chemicals in it, and ends up in landfill sitting there for thousands of years where it can lead into groundwater. That renews my determination not to buy those extra heavy glass bottles and instead buy more wine in packages like cans and boxes, as well as to tell wineries stop using the styrofoam.
Alright. In the show notes, you’ll find the full transcript of my conversation with Anna, links to her website, the video versions of these conversations on Facebook and YouTube live, and where you can order my book online now no matter where you live. That’s all in the show notes nataliemaclean.com/258. Email me if you have a sip, tip, question or if you’ve read my book or in the process of reading it at [email protected]. I would love to hear from you.
If you missed episode 16, go back and take a listen. I talk about whether organic wines are better for you health-wise than those that are not designated organic. I’ll share a short clip with you now to whet your appetite.
Until the 1950s, most grapes grown for wine were organic. That is, they were grown without using any synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. Then along came the so-called Green Revolution and the chemicals perceived as the modern and progressive way to farm. They seemed to offer problem free fields without destroying the crops. The backlash started with the back to the land movement of the 1970s. Consumers worried about harm to the environment and the long-term effects of chemicals used to produce food and drink. Scientists now believe that all such substances accumulate in our bodies, and since they’ve only been used for several decades, we don’t know yet the full long-term effects.
If you like this episode, please email or tell one friend about it this week, especially someone who’d be interested in the wines tips and stories we shared you won’t want to miss next week when we continue our chat with Anna Bertain. Thank you for taking the time to join me here. I hope something great is in your glass this week, perhaps an organic wine that was also made sustainably. You don’t want to miss one juicy episode of this podcast, especially The secret full-bodied bonus episodes that I don’t announce on social media. So subscribe for free now at natalie mclean.com/subscribe. Meet me here next week. Cheers.