Taking a life cycle look at crianza wine production in Spain: where are the bottlenecks?
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Background, aim, and scope
This paper presents the results of the LCA of wine production in the region of La Rioja (Spain). The aim of this study was twofold: to identify the most critical life cycle stages of an aged Spanish wine from the point of view of the associated environmental impacts and to compare its environmental performance with that of other wines and beers for which comparable information could be found in the scientific literature. All the product’s life cycle stages were accounted for, namely: grapes cultivation (viticulture), wine making and bottling, distribution and sales, and disposal of empty bottles.
Materials and methods
Foreground data were directly obtained from wine producers, farmers, and oenologists; background data were instead sourced from the GaBi professional database. In order to limit the uncertainty and subjectivity of the results, the choice was made to only employ midpoint indicators of environmental impact (global warming potential (GWP), acidification potential, eutrophication potential, photochemical ozone creation potential), in addition to gross energy requirement (GER) and water demand (WD). The calculated environmental indicators were allocated to the following co-products on the basis of the associated economic revenues: wine, pomace, lees, and press syrup. The avoided impacts associated to electricity generation were accounted for according to the displaced marginal technology.
The GWP of Rioja wine was found to lie between 900 and 1,000 g(CO2-eq)/bottle, depending on the assumed distribution scenario. GER is around 8–9 MJ/bottle, and WD is approximately 5 kg/bottle. The most relevant life cycle stages from the point of view of most of the considered impact categories were found to be viticulture (and fertilizer use in particular) and the production of glass for the bottles. Transportation of the wine and final disposal of the empty bottles cumulatively account for a maximum of 30% of the overall impact, depending on the specific indicator and the assumed distribution scenario.
The analysis appears to be in good agreement with previous literature studies, the results of which lie within a comparatively narrow range. Within such range, the more upmarket Rioja wine can arguably be seen as providing a greater net benefit to the economy per unit of impact.
The present analysis has shed light on which are the two main environmental bottlenecks in the life cycle of industrialized wine, namely viticulture and glass production for bottle manufacture; GWP results are in the same range as those from previous literature studies. New insight is also provided on a possible measure of “economic return on environmental investment.”
Recommendations and perspectives
As it stands, the study presented here is arguably among the most complete and transparent analyses in the alcoholic beverage sector. It could be further enhanced at a later stage by also including those secondary sub-processes which were cut off due to lack of available data (including herbicides and pesticides). As for cross-comparability, it would be recommendable for all authors to never omit presenting their results in terms of transparent, disaggregated impact indicators.
KeywordsAlcoholic beverages Bottles LCA Life cycle assessment Viticulture Wine
The authors wish to acknowledge the financial contribution of the European Commission to the LIFE SINERGIA PROJECT, LIFE 03 ENV/E/0085. Thanks are due to M.J. Clavijo, M. Puerta and M. Tubilleja from the Dirección General de Calidad Ambiental de la Consejería de Turismo, Medio Ambiente y Política Territorial del Gobierno de La Rioja (DGCA), for their help in sourcing the necessary information on the viticulture and wine-making processes.
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