Sustainable Wine Production in Mexico: The Case of Baja California

Several wine companies in the state of Baja California have carried out projects to define, monitor, and reduce the carbon footprint of the wines produced in the region.

Sustainable Wine Production in Mexico: The Case of Baja California
A wine with a lower carbon footprint in Baja California. Photo by Biljana Martinić / Unsplash

Wine, the fruit of the vine, is a very important element and icon in many cultures around the world that many people currently enjoy in the gastronomic and recreational environment.

In Mexico, particularly in the state of Baja California, excellent wines of international quality are produced. Many of them have won prestigious international awards. Wine production, in general, remains almost artisanal, although there are some new technologies and materials that have been added to the process to improve the efficiency of the various processes and, therefore, the final quality of the wine.

The concept of sustainability has also reached the territories of wine production, where the conscious use of natural resources is required. For example, due to the current great drought in the state of Baja California (and in other regions of the country), the efficient use of water has become a transcendental aspect in the projection of wine production for future years.

This is related to the so-called water footprint of wine. The carbon footprint is also considered an important element in the integral management of corporate sustainability.

Wine carbon footprint

In particular, the carbon footprint is an environmental indicator that aims to quantify the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) released into the environment by an industrial process, during the provision of a service, or at the end of the process for the creation of a particular product, in this case, wine. Although there are indeed several GHGs, in the present case we will only consider carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

The carbon footprint can also be calculated for all activities performed by an organization, in this case, a wine company, that supports the production of a product or service (wine).

Let us consider the process of growing grapes as raw materials for the production of wine. From the early stages, various actions and inputs are required for the grapes to be born, grow and develop adequately to reach the right Brix degrees (sugar concentration) for quality wine. In parallel, there are many possibilities of catastrophic events that can occur, so that the grape plants are strongly affected and sometimes degrade their quality, and in extreme cases do not bear fruit.

All of the above implies actions and inputs, among which is the use of motorized vehicles based on fossil fuels for particular applications (e.g. fumigation), the use of irrigation water through electric pumps, the use of equipment and computer systems that require electric power, among others. The aforementioned implies the generation of carbon dioxide in each activity, from the first to the last stages.

A more sustainable wine glass

At the end of the process, the wine is obtained in an industrialized or semi-industrialized manner and then taken to the bottle, and then to the glass.

So far we can mention, quantitatively, that a unit of measurement of wine, whether it is a case of 12 bottles, bottles of less than one liter, or a standard wine glass, implicitly generates a specific amount of carbon dioxide (generally expressed in kilograms or tons of CO2) that is forcibly injected into the environment.

To clarify the above idea, depending on the type of grape and wine (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Tannat, Malbec, Bonarda, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Carmenere, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Marselan, Pinot Noir, Carignan, Cinsault, among others) and the processes, primary infrastructure, lighting, and air conditioning system, etc., a glass of wine can be equivalent to a glass of carbon dioxide, one glass of wine can be equivalent to 0.123 kg of CO2 of pollution inherent to the production process, which is approximately equivalent to a high-quality videoconference for three hours with six participants (0.15 kg of CO2).

What does this mean? Every time a person tastes a wine, regardless of its quality, he or she is participating in environmental pollution because the entire production chain, which involves primary and secondary processes, leaves a variable carbon footprint.

Various initiatives

Several wine companies in the state of Baja California have carried out projects linked to the area of Renewable Energy Engineering at CETyS Universidad, Ensenada campus, to define, monitor, and reduce the carbon footprint of the wines produced in the region. The companies mentioned are Château Camou, Las Nubes, and Clos de Tres Cantos.

The reduction of the carbon footprint of the wines produced by these companies was initially based on energy efficiency related to all primary and secondary processes involved in wine production. The collaborative work between academia and companies implies an important activity to improve the competitiveness of regional wines but also establishes important challenges in terms of work dynamics and particular deliverables that both parties can understand and accept to reduce the carbon footprint of the wines produced by each particular company.

Energy efficiency and wine

To reduce the production of carbon dioxide related to the wine production process, the aforementioned companies applied the international energy management standard, ISO-50001.

This standard is based on the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA, Plan-Do-Check-Act) cycle. Thus, the projects involved first analyzed the entire wine production process (Plan stage), from the initial stages until the glass of wine is tasted by a person. Such an analysis is exhaustive but necessary to track the contributions of pollutants to the environment.

Once the process and its contribution of pollutants have been analyzed, the efficiency of the systems that require some type of energy (gasoline, diesel, biomass, thermal, electrical) is also analyzed, and a comprehensive diagnosis is made of the electrical loads (lamps, motors, computers, compressors, etc.) and sub-processes that, due to inefficient energy use, contribute significantly to the production of carbon dioxide.

So far there have been important findings related to the main actors contributing to environmental pollution. However, the simple description of the findings does not imply a solution, much less a process of continuous improvement.

To this end, the Do stage continues, which involves the definition of work teams, actions, and specific goals to promote energy efficiency and, therefore, the reduction of wine-related carbon dioxide. Now, the Check and Act stages are initiated in order, to verify the adequate fulfillment of the goals and, if necessary, make pertinent adjustments to what was initially planned.

Natural absorption measures

Energy efficiency is only one of the elements to achieving the reduction of carbon dioxide in the environment. However, the artificial and natural infrastructure of the wineries themselves also strongly supports natural CO2 abatement and absorption.

For example, the grape plants themselves (and all the surrounding vegetation) represent a natural carbon dioxide absorption system. Therefore, a winemaking company can try to attack the carbon footprint of wine on different fronts. On the one hand, by applying ISO-50001 in its primary and secondary processes, and on the other hand, by promoting bioclimatic architecture and care for the vegetation.

A more sustainable wine

Finally, sustainability is present in wine production through the efficient use of energy. A hypothetical company may start with an internal sustainability indicator for each liter of wine produced of, for example, 0.753 kg of CO2, but after carrying out the actions related to ISO-50001, and considering a prudent and adequate period, this indicator can be reduced to 0.321 kg of CO2 per liter.

This implies teamwork, a solid organizational structure, and a culture of integral sustainability on the part of all the members of the winemaking companies. In other words, now customers will not only evaluate the quality and presentation of the wine they consume, but also the environmental impact of the glass of wine they are tasting. Utopia? We do not know, but it is undoubtedly a model of integral sustainability in which society as a whole must collaborate.

By Josué Aarón López Leyva, Source: Elementos