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Heavy-weight Fetzer Moves to Light-weight Bottles for a Happier Environment

by Monty and Sara Preiser

Preisers’ Reserve: One of Napa’s best wineries is Swanson, and one of the Valley’s best winemakers is Chris Phelps, with whom we recently dined. He told us of his passion for Petite Sirah, a wine not usually associated with Swanson, and with the pride of a father beamed as he described the concentrated jammy fruit, the blackberry nose, the mid palate of clove and cedar, and a finish of licorice. We soon thereafter tasted the 2005 Swanson Petite Sirah ($70), and, not surprisingly, Chris was right on all counts. www.swansonvineyards.com 707-967-3500

Heavy-weight Fetzer Moves to Light-weight Bottles for a Happier Environment

Like many of you, we have been known to purchase a bottle or two of wine as we travel through various wine countries or visit our local wine store. And, like you again, what makes us buy a particular bottle at any given time is a function of so many factors that to try and list them all would be folly. But have you ever thought seriously about what stops you from purchasing a wine that you might otherwise enjoy? The cost of the juice? Your financial picture that day? Or maybe you simply don’t like the salesperson and decide you aren’t going to buy from them.

More and more often there is something else that keeps us from buying wine – sometimes wine we like very much. That something is the weight of the bottle. As far as we have been able to discern or learn, housing a wine in an ultra heavy container provides no advantage to the quality of the wine. That being the case, and given as well that there is plenty of good wine to be found in bottles of reasonable weight, we find ourselves (sub)consciously hefting the bottle before determining purchasability.

We wish we could tell you that we had a planet saving reason for rejecting the heavy bottles, but until recently we were not aware of the environmental impact or any alternative. We simply didn’t like carrying them (hurt the back), shipping them (hurt the wallet), or storing them (hurt the storage units).

We are the first to concede that there is much more we could do to help the nation and the planet environmentally. But we are trying. And when we see a company devoting its resources to such a project, it is worthy of note, and more than deserving of discussion and publication.

Fetzer Vineyards is one of the nation’s largest wineries, and has been working for more than twenty years toward environmental responsibility. For the past decade it has committed itself to help alleviate global warming.

Thus, almost immediately Fetzer will lightweight its entire line of wines to reduce its environmental footprint.

On an average annual basis, the new bottles will reduce glass usage by 16% (more than 2,100 tons) and affect chain greenhouse gas emissions (or carbon footprint) associated with glass bottles by 14%. Incredibly and thankfully, this is equivalent to planting 70,000 trees and growing them for ten years — or nearly tripling all the trees planted in New York’s Central Park.

The 16% glass savings is a result of technological innovations in bottle design, reducing the glass thickness, and eliminating the punt [the traditional indentation at the bottom of many wine bottles]. These changes result in multiple environmental impacts through the wine bottle lifecycle as it not only reduces the glass used, but also the energy necessary to produce the glass, and the energy required to transport the wine from the winery to consumer.

“Fetzer’s pioneering efforts at being the ‘Earth friendly wine’ is more than just an advertising tagline, it’s a philosophy that permeates everything we do at the winery,” said Dr. Ann Thrupp, Manager of Sustainability at Fetzer Wines. “Lightweighting our bottle is a double-bottom line innovation — good for the environment and for efficient operations — that supports our goal of being a sustainable business.”

The decision to convert to lightweight glass is just the latest example of Fetzer’s commitment to the environment. The winery previously conducted a greenhouse gas accounting which publicly disclosed the carbon footprint results on the California Climate Action Registry. The winery also purchases 100% renewable (green) energy — such as solar, wind and geothermal — for all its operations. Not surprisingly, perhaps, it has the wine industry’s largest solar array atop its bottling facility.

Wait. There is more. Fetzer uses recycled materials in all packaging — wine bottles are made from 35% recycled glass on average, and box partitions use 100% recycled material. This has helped the winery reduce waste to landfills by 95% since 1990. Fetzer’s well founded environmental efforts have been recognized far beyond just the wine industry, with broad awards ranging from the 2007 Best-of-the-Best Stratospheric Ozone Protection Award from the US Environmental Protection Agency, to recognition last year as a Brand With A Conscience by the Medinge Group.

It remains to be seen whether other wineries will follow suit, but give credit where credit is due. There is always a pathfinder.

www.fetzer.com 800 753-4567


Apropos to the above discussion . . .

We often laugh about wine in boxes and other non bottled packaging, but that may not be the case for long. In fact, there is evidence that opened wine best maintains its characteristics when it is in a box with a bladder. A shrinking bladder quite logically allows the wine to be poured and then seals it from more oxygen. Of course, aesthetics and reputation are important in the wine drinking world, and so regardless of the quality of a boxed wine, most enophiles would not be caught buying one, serving it to knowledgeable company, or to any date.

Things, as they say, change. While there are (and have been for a number of years) many experiments in this area, Four Wine Company of Santa Rosa, CA, has developed a wine with non bottle packaging that is not only attractive enough to sit on your bar, but is in an eco friendly tube. No more heavy glass, corks, or foils, and a carbon footprint reduction of over 50% vis a vis traditional wine bottles. The light weight container, which is 100% recyclable, saves money on shipping, and saves backaches caused by lifting heavy cases.

You know us well enough to know that even with the above advantages we would not write about this unless the wine was worthwhile. Well, it is amazingly so. We discovered Four Cabernet Sauvignon at a trade show, took glasses of it to other producers, and asked them to taste it blind. Almost all identified it as a $30 bottle – not particularly fabulous, but imminently drinkable. The actual cost is about $10/bottle, though Four comes in a 3 liter tube so that each is about $40 (4 bottles in a tube).

We believe the wine to be good and the packaging more than presentable. Four gives you (of course) four reasons to buy:

-you are supporting alternative energy sources and helping the planet by reducing

the carbon footprint and landfill waste;

-you are getting $100 worth of wine for $30;

-you are creating green collar jobs – good for the economy; and

-you are enjoying a libation which, in moderation, can be beneficial to your health.

Why not try wines from Four and Fetzer, not just because you will enjoy them, but as a thank you for the important work they are doing on behalf of us all?

Wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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