It's Earth Day, and we're thrilled to participate in ZeroFoodprint's Earth Day campaign to rally restaurants to donate $1 for every diner tonight toward carbon offset projects. As of this moment, we're up to 30 restaurants, with more folks still welcome to join in. 

In the meantime, we wanted to share an interesting exchange we had with a diner, who wrote to us to say he loved the restaurant but wondered why we offered European wines on our list: "you have a ton of good french wine," he wrote, "but according to carbon footprint studies, nobody west of ohio should be drinking french wine since it travels so far to get here." We thought this was a great question, which others might have pondered too, so we're sharing our wine director, Jay Latham's response here, which has been expanded with a few links etc.:

Cover crops on the fields at Hirsch Vineyards

Cover crops on the fields at Hirsch Vineyards

Wine flight at The Perennial

Wine flight at The Perennial

The simple answer to your question regarding wine is that there are many more factors to consider than location/distance between a winery and SF when determining the environmental impact of a wine (or any product). 

I want to first give enormous credit to the California wineries that we partner with for all the hard work and commitment they give to making environmentally responsible wines.  In fact, many of our California and European winemakers are friends as well as colleagues. They visit each other's wineries, trade ideas, and send their employees to work harvest with each other to share their experiences and techniques. They are collaborators more than they are competitors.

Our California winemakers are making great commitments in their vineyards and setting California up for a wonderful future. Pax Mahle of Wind Gap is planting new vineyards according to biodynamic principles. Nathan & Duncan of Arnot-Roberts have taken on the stewardship of vineyards where they buy fruit to farm the vineyards in environmentally positive ways. Dan Petroski of Massican winery is a member of 1% for the Planet. And Hirsch vineyards, possibly the most famous Pinot Noir vineyard in California and all of the US, farms biodynamically and sets an example that many other producers are quick to follow. 

The California wineries that we work with are very specialized and unfortunately a tiny percentage of the total production of wine made in our state. The amount of pesticides being used in California is actually going up despite increased demand for organic fruit by winemakers. This is a big reason why we advocate for certification whether it be organic or biodynamic. 

In general, the production methods are much less energy intensive for the European producers we have on our wine list. The vast majority of our European producers are biodynamic. In contrast, it's very hard to get California producers that are certified organic, much less biodynamic, because they rarely own the vineyards where they source their fruit. In California these vineyards also might be 100+ miles from the winery with those grapes traveling to the winery on tractor-trailers and the winemaker racking up 1000 miles in his own car visiting that vineyard 4-5 times a year. Multiply that by 5-6 vineyards and the carbon footprint becomes substantial. Contrast that with some of our European wineries where the vineyard is in their village and in some cases their backyard. 

These European wineries also tend to have smaller carbon footprints overall in their production. For instance, European producers often own their bottling machines or even bottle by hand in some instances. Conversely, nearly all (or perhaps all?) CA producers have their wines bottled on bottling lines driven to their winery on tractor-trailers. There are dozens of similar examples during the production of a single wine. Irrigation is another factor (CA is in a drought yet still uses a lot of irrigation, which is in fact illegal in France). Water use in California wineries during harvest can be so copious that it can affect the entire wastewater management of a small town or county. Almost all California wineries use above ground cellars, which need significant amounts of energy to cool to 55 degrees year round vs French wineries with natural underground caves. Not even to mention tasting rooms and huge gardens at wineries in places like Napa that use what we would consider superfluous energy and water simply for ostentatious taste.

Measures of the carbon footprint of shipping European wine on container ships show that wines shipped by ocean vessel from Europe have a surprising small carbon footprint for the transit. The European wines on our list are all shipped to Oakland port (on container ship), so they are not traveling long distances on trucks across the country. 

Thanks for your inquiry and hope this helps shed some light on the topic.