Thursday, November 30, 2006

wine miles

Oooh, there are so many yummy cuddly ways to ethically consume.

In the dentist's waiting room there was one of those monthly glossy thick You're Ugly magazines like Marie Claire or Cosmopolitan which had 20 top tips on how to buy green. The bit about buying ethical diamonds was the camel spine snapper.

But running it a close second comes this ad in the Oberver for Australian wine Banrock Station.

Banrock Station's Eden Project advert

They coo about how they sponsor stuff at the Eden Project, who develop ideas 'to help protect and sustain the environment'.

I've got one such idea. How about not exacerbating climate change by shipping wine from about as far away as it's possible to get?

In last month's Howard Memorial Lecture, Green MEP Caroline Lucas said

Between 1968 and 1998 world food production increased by 84 per cent, yet over the same period international trade in food products almost trebled, with trade flows doubling for almost every food category.

Moreover, closer inspection of the figures reveals that a large part of this growth in international trade in food is accounted for by simultaneous imports and exports of the same products between exactly the same countries!

I wrote a report a few years back, called "The Great Food Swap", which documented the absurdity of this phenomenon. The UK and EU provide telling case studies. In one year, Britain imported 61,400 tonnes of poultry meat from the Netherlands and in precisely the same year, it exported 33,100 tonnes of poultry meat to the Netherlands.

In the same year it imported 240,000 tonnes of pork and 125,000 tonnes of lamb, while it exported 195,000 tonnes of pork and 102,000 tonnes of lamb.

The UK imported 126 million litres of milk and exported 270 million litres of milk.

Ah, but whilst it's mad to ship a foodstuff like milk that is utterly generic, wines of the world have different character. Sure, it's a heavy container containing around 85% water, but all the difference is in that last 15%. Right?

First off, let's just be clear that wine is not a necessary foodstuff, it is only ever consumed as a luxury. So when our transport use has to be curtailed then mass consumption of imported luxuries should be jostling with the swapping of generic products at the top of the list.

But even on its own terms, the argument of different countries making different wines doesn't have even the dimmest persuasive power. Even if you don't want to go for excellent British wines but prefer classic flavours, we are adjacent to France, the country that produces not only a massive variety of wines but among them the finest on earth. Even if you want dirt cheap rough stuff, that means central or eastern European.

So there is simply no excuse - be it on grounds of conscience, value or quality - for Europeans buying non-European wine.

Banrock Station's using eco-PR to sell maximum wine miles is as cynical as (I've linked to them to prove that they really exist) the Reebok Human Rights Awards, the Alcan Prize for Sustainability or Nestlé Award for Social Commitment.


Anonymous said...

ooh the eden project suck so much corporate cock!
their latest - buy more fuel at BP and pay £20 so that some Indian's cancel it out for you. Keep driving, save the planet and give to the poor - it's a win-win-win situation!

Not to mention that they take money from:

Anglo American; Estee Lauder; Lloyds TSB; McAlpines; NatWest; Rio Tinto; Royal Bank of Scotland; Syngenta; Tarmac; Unilever and Waitrose.

Anonymous said...

According to my Dad (who knows more about fine wines than anyone else I know) the best wines in the world are Spanish and the most drinkable cheap wines are French. So when it comes to wine; buy European even if you don't give a shit about food miles.

merrick said...

Anonyperson, gotta love that 'pollute and pay someone else to be tidier' approach.

If I ran a chemical factory and was pouring toxic crud into the river that ran past the back, would it be OK if carried on but offered my customers the chance to pay someone else to clean up a river in India?

RA said...

I agree that the best wine(well my favourite) is Spanish. Another point is that you can buy wine made in France/Spain by Australian/NewZealand/SouthAfrican or whatever wine makers who use grapes of a variety native to many other places. You can experience huge variations in character of wine from just one valley in France.

If you want to drink bloody gorgeous alcoholic stuff there's so much made in the Uk that you need never buy anything from overseas again.

In fact, if I had to choose a single alcoholic beverage as the only one I could consume for the rest of my life it would be Cains Best Bitter made in Liverpool.

Plough up the golf courses and grow more hops!

That said I'm enjoying a lovely Cotes d Rhone as I type (with a little lancashire cheese)


David Jeffery said...

Heh, very nice post, spot on.

As a keen wine drinker and environmentalist living in Australia, I don't mind the occasional drop of Banrock Station. They put money into wetland restoration programs here and it's a decent drop for the price (less than $10, ie, about 4 quid I guess). But buying it in the UK is ludicrous when you can get good French wines cheaper and with far lower environmental impact.

I've always thought people who prefer imported wine are dumb wankers - French wines here start at about 3 times the price of a good Australian wine and I assume that's the mass-produced ordinary stuff, coz that's mostly what we ship overseas as far as I'm aware(eg, Banrock, Jacob's Creek, Cockatoo Ridge - all very low-end wines).