Close Menu

Top 10 green initiatives

There’s more to being green than keeping an eye on the electricity meter – a range of environmental initiatives are being aided by the latest advances in technology.


Green issues have risen to the forefront of winemakers’ minds as estates seek to lessen their impact on the environment.

From making honey to encourage biodiversity, using drones and geese to fend off pests and bikes to get around the estate, the wine world is doing its bit to go green.

Entries are now open for The Drinks Business Green Awards 2015, which seek to raise awareness of green issues in the drinks trade and reward those who are leading the way in sustainability and environmental performance.

Last year, Yealands Family Wines was named International Green Company of the year, while Chile’s VSPT Wine Group scooped the Ethical Company of the Year award.

Further categories include Best Green Launch, Personality of the Year, Logistics and Supply Chain Green Initiative and Green Retailer of the Year.

Scroll through to explore some of the green initiatives currently in play at vineyards around the world.


Solar panels are becoming an increasingly noticeable feature at wineries lucky enough to be blessed by Helios. Far Niente in California pioneered the use of 2,300 floating solar panels in 2008.

The winery was the first in the world to trial the Floatovoltaic system, installed on an irrigation pond, meaning the estate produces more energy than it consumes. “Our environment is facing significant challenges and we have an obligation to do our bit and take sustainable measures,” says CEO Larry Maguire.

Also going big on solar power is De Bortoli, which boasts the largest solar panel in Australia that is helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 300 tonnes of CO2 a year. Hot on its heels, Jackson Family Wines in California is currently building the largest solar installation of any winery in the world with the aim that by the end of 2015, half of the company’s electricity will be offset by 7MW of onsite solar, saving around $1.5m (£950,000) in electricity each year.

Finally, Miguel Torres Chile has developed a solar polygeneration system to control the temperature during the vinification process by means of panels able to catch solar energy, cooling the water by up to 7°C.


High on wineries’ green agendas is the size of their water footprint. At Jackson Family Wines in California, water conservation strategies save the estate 9m gallons of water a year, equal to 180,000 bathtubs full of H2O.

Down under, De Bortoli in Australia has created a green farm to reuse wastewater to irrigate grain and fodder crops grown on a neighbouring property, which are harvested and sold for profit.

The estate also uses waterless vacuum pumps and brooms in place of hoses and has seen increased use of composting from grape marc and manure from nearby farms, which has reduced water consumption by up to 40%, equivalent to the yearly water use of 680 households.

Emiliana in Chile is seeking to reduce its water use by 50%, while fellow Chilean wine giant Concha y Toro was the first winery in the world to measure its water footprint in 2010. Around 97% of its water collection comes from 41 surface water sources and 37 groundwater sources for irrigation.

Montes meanwhile has taken water preservation to the extreme by dry farming its Montes Alpha vineyard in Apalta – a feat said to be impossible – reducing its water footprint by 65%.


While making a collective effort to be green in the vineyard, some estates are stretching green practices to their winery buildings to great effect. Vena Cava in Mexico’s Guadalupe Valley recently opened a winery boasting a roof made from recycled boats.

Designed by husband and wife duo Alejandro D’Acosta and Claudia Turrent, the winery’s vaulted ceilings are made out of disused boats from a nearby port, while the walls are decorated with old lenses from a local eyeglass factory. Working with recycled materials, the pair found that glass bottles work well as insulators, while water-resistant boats make for durable ceilings.

The cathedral-like Shale Oak winery in Paso Robles meanwhile, is made from recycled reclaimed materials from buildings in Newport Beach and Vandenberg Air Force Base. With its stainedglass façade, the winery was designed to utilise natural daylight to lower energy use, while the roof harvests almost 500,000 gallons of rainwater a year to irrigate the vineyards.

At Antinori’s impressive new facility in Chianti, architectural firm Archea Associati has gone to great lengths to make sure the building harmonises with the undulating landscape by planting rows of vines on the roof, where circular holes flood the winery’s interior with natural light.


While they may look like something from a science fiction film, drones are helping winemakers in their battle to fend off killer vine diseases. The BIVB, Airbus engineers and Bordeaux tycoon Bernard Magrez have agreed funding to test the use of drones to detect vine diseases.

The consortium plans to spend up to €1.7m (£1.35m) on the three-year project. Partfinanced by the French state, drones will be supplied by Novadem. “Images obtained using drones and interpreted using sophisticated analysis systems will, in the near future, constitute a key instrument of diagnosis for growers,” say the consortium.

The challenge will be to ensure that what the drone sees can be analysed to get better results than with the human eye. The project follows initial trials to detect the early signs of flavescence dorée, a vine illness with no known cure.

Magrez is using drones to analyse vines in his four classified estates in Bordeaux. It is hoped that they will also help detect esca, a wood-rotting disease concerning winemakers in France. Over in Chile, Emiliana uses drones to estimate production and analyse vine vigour.

The devices are also being trialled in California, however obtaining approval for use from the Federal Aviation Administration remains difficult. In a similar vein, South African estate De Wetshof is experimenting with satellite technology, using a satellite roaming 25km above the earth to capture detailed images of the Robertson estate, which are used alongside aerial photography from aircraft to determine the best treatment for each vine.


Geothermal energy has become a big deal in New Zealand, and is currently used to produce around 13% of the country’s electricity supply.

NZ is lucky enough to draw over 70% of its electricity from renewable sources with the goal to raise renewable generation to 90% by 2025. In California, The Geysers is one of only two locations in the world with a high temperature geothermal resource that can be used to move turbines and generate electricity.

Spanning 45 square miles along the Sonoma and Lake County border is the largest complex of geothermal power plants in the world. Calpine, America’s largest geothermal power producer, owns and operates 15 of the 17 power plants at The Geysers with a net generating capacity of about 725MW of electricity – enough to power a city the size of San Francisco.

Also on the energy front, producers like Yealands in New Zealand are burning their vine prunings to create an alternative energy source and biochar, which, with its high carbon content, can be used as compost on the vines where it adds to the fertility of the soil. Torres meanwhile, has developed a pyrolysis reactor, which produces biochar from vine trunks.


Last year, the world’s first paper wine bottle went on sale in America. The fruit of a collaboration between manufacturer GreenBottle, drinks packaging design company Stranger & Stranger and Californian wine producer Truett-Hurst, Paperboy is made from compressed recycled paper printed with natural inks.

Each bottle weighs 65g – a seventh of the weight of an average glass bottle. While the outside of the bottle boasts a black ink retro graphic of a paperboy, the inside contains a recyclable sleeve similar to those found in boxed wine.

“Paperboy is about as green as it’s possible to make a wine bottle,” says Kevin Shaw of Stranger & Stranger. “They weigh only an ounce when empty so save a huge amount of energy on shipping.”

What’s more, he assures, “The bottles are rigid and strong; they’re ice bucket safe for three hours.” Filled with a red blend from Paso Robles, Paperboy went on sale at Safeway last November.

Also keen to fly the green flag, American actor Adrian Grenier released Stomping Ground in 2012 via his sustainable lifestyle website, a wine made from grapes sourced from organic and biodynamic vineyards in Paso Robles. Housed in recycled bottles, the labels are printed with non-toxic ink.


Wine co-operative Plaimont is taking an innovative approach to tackling climate change by reviving ancient grapes that have naturally low alcohol content. In 2002, the co-operative planted the largest private collection of historic grapes to preserve the ancient varieties of the Saint Mont appellation, where deep sandy soils have allowed vines to survive phylloxera, among other root-eating pests.

The one hectare plot contains 39 different varieties, including 12 grapes that are unknown to the wine world. One such variety, Pedebernade no.5, produces wines with naturally low alcohol levels.

The grape is named after Monsieur Pedebernade, owner of the ancient vineyard where the variety was discovered. Since being planted in 2002, Pedebernade no.5 has produced wines ranging from 9-10.2% abv, making it good for blending with high alcohol varieties or planting in hot pockets of the world.

“Pedebernade no.5 would be good for blending with Tannat and the market is asking for lower levels of alcohol, which we can’t do with Tannat. It would also be a good grape if the weather becomes hotter in south-west France, or it could be good for use in much hotter areas,” says Olivier Bourdet-Pees, managing director of Plaimont.


A gaggle of Cono Sur geese

Helping to save on fuel costs, a number of estates are going back to the traditional method of ploughing their vineyards with horses rather than tractors. In Bordeaux, Château Pontet-Canet has pioneered the process with its four-legged fleet, while biodynamic producer Michel Chapoutier does the same in the Rhône.

Emiliana in Chile also uses horses for ploughing, but it’s not only nags that are making themselves useful between the vines – several estates now use sheep in place of lawnmowers. Yealands in Marlborough employs a fleet of adorable babydoll sheep to keep the grass trim in its vineyards, while English sparkling wine estate Nyetimber uses a flock of 400 sheep to graze among the vines in West Sussex.

According to the producers, keeping grass trim helps reduce the risk of frost, while the sheep provide manure for the soil. At Cono Sur’s Santa Elisa estate in Chimbarongo, a gaggle of geese play an integral role in vineyard pest control. Over 1,000 of the waddling water birds work at the Chilean estate, where they eat insects and bugs during the growing season that would otherwise be damaging to the vines.


Chilean green giant Cono Sur takes its green stance so seriously that all of its workers get around the estate on two wheels, hence the vintage bike on the label of the brand’s entry-level Bicycleta range. “The bicycle symbolises Cono Sur’s passion, commitment and respect for the environment,” says chief winemaker Adolfo Hurtado, whose green ethics stretch beyond working hours.

“Cycling is my favourite hobby. I ride my mountain bike wherever I can and take it with me when I go on holiday,” he says. At the estate in Chimbarongo, there is even a giant bicycle sculpture in the middle of the vineyard.

Fellow green pioneer Torres is also hot on reducing carbon emissions via environmentally friendly modes of transport – the company’s head honcho, Miguel Torres Sr, drives a hybrid car and has bought around 50 for his staff to use.

A passionate advocate for protecting the planet against climate change, Torres has donated £9m of his own money to environmental issues. “Climate change is a reality. I’m astonished to see the speed at which it is taking place. Everyone should make a contribution to fight against this threat,” he says.


One way green-minded wineries are increasing their biodiversity is via the production of honey. In 2011, Château Brown in Pessac-Léognan released its first batch of vintage honey onto the market, made from 20 hives near its Bordeaux vineyards, which are home to some 65,000 honey bees that feed on acacia flowers.

The hives aid pollination in the vines – bees are essential to all plants, as they help reduce the amount of insecticides used in the vineyard, which is crucial to the estate’s move towards lutte raisonnée.

Château Brown’s director Jean-Christophe Mau is considering increasing the number of hives next year in order to make more honey, which is on sale at the estate’s shop.  Also in on the honey act is green pioneer Emiliana in Chile. Made by employees at the estate as a side project along with olive oil, herbs and vegetables, Emiliana organic honey, made from 15 hives and sold at the estate, helps to provide additional income to the bodega’s workers.

It looks like you're in Asia, would you like to be redirected to the Drinks Business Asia edition?

Yes, take me to the Asia edition No