Earth Day presents a fine opportunity to support wine and spirits brands that go that extra solar-powered mile to ensure their products are sustainable. Fortunately, finding eco-minded brands is easier than ever before. Bombay Sapphire Gin just announced that all ten of its botanicals are on track to be certified sustainable in 2021 and the Scotch Whisky industry recently committed to net zero emissions by 2040. Wine lovers will appreciate the fact that wine regions such as Sonoma can claim 99% of the vineyards are certified sustainable. For most producers these steps are merely the beginning. Consider Ryan Christiansen, distiller for Barr Hill Gin, who supports pollinator habitats by using local raw honey as the chief source of botanicals in his gold-medal winning gin. He agrees they have made progress but argues, “I don’t feel sustainable yet. We have a new idea every day on how we can do this better. I feel like we make gin and vodka but what we really do is start conversations.”
There are definitely some interesting conversations going on as attempts to reduce a carbon footprint, or convert to organic, sustainable, or biodynamic agriculture often demand titanic efforts and no small amount of ingenuity. At Barr Hill, Christiansen had to sort out the best way to manage the raw honey, which arrived in 650 pound drums. “It was solid and viscous and didn’t want to be pumped, so in the early days we had to use food grade shovels to add it to the gin,” he recalls. After a few backbreaking runs they figured out how to soften the honey and engineered a special pump to move it out of the drums.
At Distillery 98 in South Walton, Florida owners David and Kendall Kapitanoff and Harrison Holditch figured out how to purify their vodka through a custom-built filter made with locally sourced oyster shells. They also purchased land nearby to cultivate non-GMO corn to make the vodka, and send the spent grain mash from the distilling process to a nearby farm to feed livestock.
Chemical-free practices yield perks other than sustainability—most notably a purity of terroir expression as found in the silky wines from Antiquum Wine in Oregon, where winemaker Stephen Hagan manages a small herd of livestock to support his labor-intensive all-natural method of grazing-based viticulture. Alois Lageder, a certified biodynamic winery located in northern Italy, is a temple to renewable practices making use of solar panels, geothermal heating, and gravity-flow wine production—efforts which have made them renowned for crafting juicy, expressive, and complex white wines. And, in Sonoma, the team at Jordan Winery is now the proud steward of the largest and most diverse winery pollinator sanctuary in the country.
The humble pea is the star attraction at Arbikie Highland Estate distillery in Scotland. “We are entirely field-to-bottle,” explains Master Blender Kirsty Black, “and we look to peas to help fix the nitrogen in the soils around the distillery to help us sustainably cultivate juniper and a range of other botanicals.” Kirsteen Campbell, master whisky maker for The Macallan, notes that in their efforts to become carbon neutral they have undertaken sustainable management of the The Macallan estate’s habitat—no small task as it’s a 485 acre sanctuary, home to over 70 species of wildlife, birds and fish, including seven identified European Protected Species. Bombay Sapphire is on a similar track, aiming to sustainably source 100% of their key ingredients by 2025. Their Master of Botanicals, Ivano Tonutti, admits this is only the beginning, “I want future generations to carry on the work and to do even more. I am an optimist and I believe in future generations building on the good work we are doing today.”