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The dizzying cycle of winemaking and climate change

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Posted at 3:08 PM, Oct 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-08 18:41:49-04

Hauling roughly 1,000 pounds of grapes is a normal day for natural winemaker Jason Charles as he gets ready to produce a new vintage of his Vinca Minor wine in Northern California.

“My first jobs up in Napa Valley were always working with really thoughtful winemakers, farmers, where organics mattered,” he said. “And you could see the difference; you could taste the difference.”

The idea of tasting the difference came full circle for Charles in 2020, when smoke taint from the disastrous Glass Fire ruined his red grapes. The fire destroyed more than 67,000 acres of land in Napa and Sonoma Counties, according to Cal Fire.

Facing losses that could have devastated his business, he turned to orchards and produced fruit wine. What was once a temporary fix is now a staple in his Berkeley tasting room as climate change pushes winemakers like him to be innovative.

“I think most farmers realize that perhaps what they planted five years ago is no longer, you know, I think there’s a lot of tests going on regarding what does the future of California look like,” he said.

Turns out, though, winemaking also contributes to climate change in various ways, including the production of glass bottles.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the production of 1 ton of glass emits roughly 1 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, which is roughly the same amount of CO2 produced by half a million cars in three months.

However, only 39% of glass wine and liquor bottles are recycled in the U.S., despite being 100% recyclable.

Plus, supply chain snarls put an additional strain on wineries.

It’s a problem Charles acknowledges as his brand produces wines in cans.

“We started putting our fruit wines in some pretty heavy sparkling glass and it's really beautiful, and it's great packaging, but I just don't know how sustainable it is,” he said. “We are starting to see a few producers and distributors with really beautiful packaging stuff, kind of reimagining what, you know, wine in a box looks like. I still feel like cans are still more popular. I don't know how that and box wines will go but I mean, it definitely has a future, you know, especially with the cost increase.”

Many people don't have a problem drinking wine out of a can.

“If it tasted as good," a Napa Valley resident said.

As for an out-of-town visitor, she said, “You know, I don’t know. At my age, probably not!”

Charles, though, remains optimistic.

“It's sustainable. It's great for the consumer,” Charles said. “The consumer, it feels like, is definitely showing signs that they want to drink more wine out of a can. So, I think creatively, it's a really fun space to be in. You get to reimagine what your brand looks like in a new space.”

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