Too Much Wine: The Elephant in the Room

Too Much Wine: The Elephant in the Room

© Shutterstock


Too Much Wine: The Elephant in the Room

© Shutterstock

Sustainability has been a hot topic of late, both in broader society as well as in the wine industry. It is very clear that on a planet of limited natural resources, we cannot continue to infinitely grow, consume and manufacture. Whilst viticulture only accounts for a fraction of this footprint in agricultural terms, wine uses a large amount of various natural resources in the long journey vineyard to glass.

Noble efforts

Every year more and more vineyards convert to organic, biodynamic and sustainable methods of viticulture. If you have been paying attention to many of the world’s wine commentators recently, you might have noticed a trend of them weighing bottles of wine and crying foul when unnecessary, extra-thick glass is chosen as the material of choice. Major wineries are making strides towards carbon neutrality and alternative packaging methods are being explored, from cans to vessels made from recycled materials and more.

The real problem

But I cannot help but feel that the real elephant in the room is not being addressed. The simple, slightly unpalatable truth is that we make far, far too much wine – much of which is in places that nature certainly did not intend. Far more than is consumed on a yearly basis, in fact. Even in years of high consumption, wine production tends to exceed demand by anywhere from one billion litres to 2.5 billion litres.

Every single year, and this is of course not counting the grapes that are never picked because it is not financially viable to do so. So for all the hard work done to decrease the carbon footprint by a number of producers and well-meaning commentators, the wine industry's biggest issue on this front is a good, old-fashioned supply vs. demand imbalance. And even if certain styles may have a temporary shortage, or a vintage may be disastrous – like 2021 in much of Europe, this bigger problem does not go away.

A zero sum game

Sustainability aside, this has some other obvious consequences. Most of this wine isn´t being hand-sold in bottle shops and restaurants by clued-up members of the trade who have cherry-picked the very best producers from a region. It´s probably being sold on the bottom shelves of supermarkets, sometimes at a loss, with margins increasingly squeezed dry. The race-to-the-bottom is an ugly one that benefits no-one but the large retail chains these wines are sold through. Excess wine is either sold on at a loss or, particularly in Europe, distilled into alcohol to be sold to other industries.

Buy wisely and share the love

Whilst it is therapeutic to shout at the clouds from time to time, what can be done about it? Not much, in truth. Like everything, the wine industry will wax and wane and the laws of the market tend to bring some semblance of balance in the long run. From an individual perspective, the best contribution we can make is to spend our money wisely. Even quality producers struggle to be heard about the noise and for all the famous names in wine, there are countless others waiting to be discovered. 

When you find a producer you really enjoy, tell people about it; share the love. Try to purchase from independent retailers wherever possible and keep exploring. The world of wine has never been so blessed with quite so many amazing wine-makers and producers, but it requires proactivity to unearth them and bring them home. The effort is well worth it.