Wine, sustainability and evolution of the business model

Did you know that the bottle is the biggest contributor to the wine industry’s carbon footprint?
November 2021
Wine, sustainability and evolution of the business model

How much more can we change an element that is so iconic and critical to the quality of the product?

Sustainability is a growing concern for consumers and, of course, for companies. Companies are increasingly making the reduction of their carbon footprint a priority, and this is not a secondary consideration for the wine market.

Wine companies have already made an effort to improve their sustainability, especially in the area of agriculture. Most bodegas are achieving more responsible agriculture, are using fewer chemical products and have improved their use of by-products. However, in the area of packaging, bottles, and the distribution model, there is still much work to be done.

In this area we can look to the past, when our grandparents would go to the store with a glass bottle or carafe to fill with wine in bulk. Now that was sustainable. Today, it is true that this would be much more complicated for several reasons, but there are some interesting options to try and change this business and reduce its impact on the environment.  

Image: @twoluckyspoons

In the United States, the startup Gotham Project, like Batman, is trying to change the wine world through its business model. Their proposal is very interesting and powerful, it starts by almost completely eliminating the non-returnable bottle from the equation. 

Gotham Project is basically a company that sells wine by the barrel to be sold on tap, as if it were beer. So far there isn’t much innovation. Although this system is not very well-known in countries that are traditionally wine producers, in places where wine by the glass is more common, it is easy to find these types of taps in bars and restaurants. 

This distribution method saves bottles and allows the wine barrels to be re-used for a long time, which has a very relevant impact on the carbon footprint of the company. A change like this in the sector could have a very strong impact. Although, it is true that this system is better for young wines where the quality is not compromised.

Image: @kymellis

But the start-up has a greater ambition. It is also changing the way we transport and distribute wine. To do this, it imports wine from Europe to the United States in airtight containers. One of these containers can transport 24,000 liters of wine, which in bottles would require 3 containers, in addition to the increased weight of the bottles themselves.

The container then arrives at the bottling facility where they fill barrels, cans, and bottles. These last bottles being returnable. Gotham Project sells these barreled wines to bars and restaurants in 40 states. Considering the great number of bottles that aren’t yet recycled, we can imagine the impact that this movement has on sustainability.

Researchers have long known that the majority a wine bottle’s carbon footprint is due to the energy needed to manufacture the bottle, transport it to be filled at a bodega, and then distribute it across the world for consumption. 

As the need to reduce humanity’s carbon output becomes more urgent, some in the wine industry have begun to examine alternatives to traditional methods of bottling and shipping wine, which consume more energy.

The challenge is clear and also urgent. The technology already exists, it doesn’t need to be invented, what we can change is the business model and above all else its distribution. The task is not simple, but it must be done. When do we start?