Christmas and Chinese New Year means a packed calendar of social events. What’s an eco-friendly oenophile to do?

With the term “eco” increasingly on everyone’s lips, the wine industry finds itself in a tricky spot. On the one hand, winemakers’ reliance on the environment for site-sensitive product inclines the industry to eco-consciousness. On the other, unless we all commit to drinking wine from our backyards, we’re adding a heavy, fragile product to the world’s vast volume of international cargo.

Responsible practices cost money, both in farming, such as managing vine canopies to reduce fungicide and pesticide use, and winemaking—for example allowing wine to slowly stabilise in the winery versus wasteful filtration or indiscriminate additive use—so the sustainability-minded drinker should prepare to pay a little bit more per bottle.

Committing to eco-friendly imbibing shouldn’t mean sacrificing on flavour. Most environmentally committed producers claim to prize above all reflecting the specificity of their environment. And winemakers who pay great attention to their process but don’t believe in artificially “shaping” their wine—whether with excessive new oak or technology—should produce wines that give those who enjoy them an authentic, almost magical experience of a place they may never get to see.

Put Practicality Before Philosophy

Biodynamic, organic and fair trade are labels applied to wines that privilege an aspect of production while sometimes glossing over others. For example, the biodynamic and organic-friendly pesticide copper sulphate causes heavy metal to accumulate in the soil and, when a tractor is needed for repeated applications, creates carbon emissions. “Natural” producers fixated on “zero sulphite” status oblige their distributors to use energy-intensive temperature-controlled transport and storage or risk damaging the product.

For a more holistic view, look for respected “sustainable” certifications. Though some feel these systems are often watered down, protocols in many areas like California, New Zealand and South Africa have been widely lauded for their comprehensiveness.

Also, look for summative metrics like water usage or carbon emissions per unit, especially those that emphasise emissions reduction. US giant Jackson Family Wines is proactive about publishing its emissions figures and has formed a working group with Spain’s Torres family to measure emissions and pioneer novel technologies. Family companies like these and Portugal’s Symington Family Estates often stand out among larger producers for long-term thinking, usually encompassing sustainability.

Match Grapes To Climates

Seek out logical combos of grape and climate. Grapes from dry origins, like much of Portugal, Spain, Greece and southern Italy, for example, are much more appropriate for similarly hot, dry places than many water-sucking French grapes (ahem, cabernet sauvignon). When drought-resistant varieties permit irrigation to be avoided or reduced, dry places are great for sustainable farming.

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Above At 29, Gen.T honouree Sarah Heller became the world’s youngest Master of Wine

Drink Local

Most agree the key metric for environmental impact is not absolute distance between producer and drinker, but the mode of transport. Ship freight is more favourable than air or truck, and sadly most Asian wine moves by the latter two. Those living close to a wine region, for example Fangshan near Beijing, Yamanashi near Tokyo or Asoke Valley near Bangkok, can do their part by supporting their local producers.

Eco-Friendly Wines

Vérité La Muse 2013 Who said sustainability has to feel austere? This merlot-dominant Bordeaux blend from Sonoma County’s Jackson Family was created to rival Pomerol’s Pétrus. With its luscious red cherry and undergrowth aromas—and the knowledge that it comes from a low water-usage, largely solar-powered winery—it will make you feel simultaneously indulged and deeply virtuous.

Yealands Estate Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2017 There are few by-the-glass options more popular than grassy, tangy Marlborough sauvignon blanc and this one packs serious sustainability cred. Yealands has used scale to support emissions-driven initiatives like burning vine prunings for electricity and developing wetlands around their vineyards to support biodiversity. Their cutest undertaking? Grass-mowing babydoll sheep.

Familia Torres Grans Muralles 2011 This Conca de Barberà blend incorporates the native grapes garró and querol (adding density and chewiness), long believed to be extinct, with better-known natives garnacha, cariñena and monastrell. Torres is one of Europe’s largest vineyard owners, meaning its initiatives around sustainable energy, water use and transport have major impact—for example, it pioneered higher altitude vineyards and ancestral vines for climate change mitigation.

Taittinger Brut Réserve NV One of the few fully family-owned Champagne houses again, as of 2006, Taittinger has taken the long view by not only reducing the weight of its bottles to the recommended 835g but also by using 94 per cent recycled glass, versus 80 percent for the region. Even Comtes de Champagne Rosé, very much a prestige bottling, is only marginally heavier. The wine style itself is future-ready, with a high proportion of pure, cleansing chardonnay lending it longevity (yes, Brut NV can age!).

Marco Cirillo’s 1850 Ancestor Vine Grenache 2016 Though better known for shiraz, the Barossa Valley’s increasing focus on less thirsty grenache is an encouraging sign. This ethereal, silky, tart cherry and raspberry-fruited gem is grown in a vineyard so dry and sandy you want to run through it barefoot in a bikini.

Grace Winey Cabernet Franc 2015 Growing grapes in the humid, stormy environment of Yamanashi, Japan, has its challenges. This long-established family producer worked with renowned viticulturalist Richard Smart to develop the Smart Japan system of vine cultivation to help it farm more sustainably. This franc’s aromas of smoke, sagebrush, bright red cherry and cigar with a lucent medicinal brightness suggest it has paid off.

Gen.T honouree Sarah Heller is the world's youngest Master of Wine.

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