Drink Local this November 20
November 12, 2008
Beaujolais Nouveau is a travesty on at least two levels, one gustatory and one environmental. The grapes for this proto-wine were harvested only three months prior to the airdrop. In some years, they are not ripe enough and need to have their alcohol levels boosted by sugar. And most of the Nouveau is made with carbonic maceration, commercial yeast strains and enzymes to give it a confected taste. Don’t get me wrong: I think Gamay is one of the most food-friendly red grapes and a great value but mostly when it hails from one of the smaller subzones of Beaujolais.
Regulations prohibit the wine from leaving the region more than one week before the arbitrary date of the third Thursday of November, when signs all around the world proclaim triumphantly “le Beajuolais noveau est arrive” (the Beaujolais Nouveau has arrived!”)
As my research on the carbon footprint of wine has shown, airfreight is hardly the best way to transport any wine even if it were the best of the best since it takes so much fuel to keep a plane aloft. Thus a bottle of Georges Duboeuf flown to New York has four times the carbon footprint than if it were sent by ship…to San Francisco, which is about eight times the distance.
It's worth noting that this year's Nouveau campaign will have a reduced carbon footprint and credit must go where credit is due: George W. Bush and Jean-Charles Boisset. The policies of the Bush Administration plunged the dollar to a rate of 1.60 to the euro and drove oil to over $100/barrel when the management at Georges Duboeuf had to price the wine this summer (the dollar has rallied and the oil price has fallen since then). This led them to convince French authorities to move the date up for the wine leaving the European Union, allowing for container shipping, which would save $2 per bottle on the wine in a store according to the Duboeuf North American export director. Coincidentally, container shipping also has a lower carbon footprint. However, the ships cannot reach everywhere so quickly: There will still be over one million cases of Nouveau sent around the world via air freight this year.
French negociant Jean-Charles Boisset has made a more determined effort to reduce the carbon footprint of his Nouveau and will be bottling in ultralight plastic bottles this year for the first time. By reducing the packaging mass, the carbon dioxide emissions per ounce of wine falls since the load is either lighter or has more wine and less packaging.
So say no to Nouveau and join me in raising a glass of local wine this November 20! Do it for the polar bears…and your local vintner.