Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Champagne Going Green

With the holiday party season moving ahead at full throttle, selected Champagne producers in France are doing their part to ensure that the Champagne we pop in celebration of the good times is just a little bit greener (environmentally friendly).

In response to a 2003 study that found that the Champagne industry emits 220,500 tons of carbon dioxide every year in the process of transporting their product around the world, the region’s trade organization, Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), is recommending that producers switch over to a newer, sleeker bottle. The goal is to achieve a 25% reduction in the carbon footprint by 2020 and 75% by 2050. Production and shipping accounts for nearly a third of Champagne’s carbon emissions, with the husky (nearly 2 pounds of glass) bottle the biggest offender.

The new bottle is only marginally slimmer than the traditional bottle and about 2.3 ounces lighter. Not much of a change you say? One must remember that two (2) factors significantly influenced the decision to alter the Champagne bottle – safety and tradition.

The design of the slimmer bottle required a significant re-engineering in order to handle the pressure of Champagne (nearly 3 atmospheres – or 90 PSI ) for more than four years - from bottling all the way to the consumer’s hands. Think of it as 3 times the pressure of the air in your car’s tires. Although the Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon is often (incorrectly) thought of as the inventor of Champagne, he was the one who first thickened the glass (in the mid-1600s) to contain what was often referred to as “the devil’s wine” because its vessels exploded so often.

Champagne houses go to great lengths to cultivate an image of luxury through packaging and pricing - and will gladly explain to you that other sparkling wines are inferior because they simply are not Champagne. With tradition being a major factor, producers are very reluctant to alter, even in the slightest, the manner in which their product is seen or presented to the consumer. Therefore, the new bottle had to be molded so that consumers would barely detect the difference in the bottle’s classic shape. In order to optimize the efficiency, the new bottle also had to fit all of the existing machinery at all of the Champagne houses.

But this small reduction in weight (from a slightly narrower profile in the shoulder of the bottle) reduced the carbon emissions associated with bottle production alone by 7%. The slimmer shape allows approximately 2,400 more bottles (200 cases) to be transported in the standard truckload, therefore putting fewer trucks on the road. The estimate is that this will result in a reduction of nearly 9,000 tons (18 million pounds) of carbon emitted annually - the equivalent of taking 4,000 small cars off the road.

Depending on the Champagne house you favor, you may already own some of the new bottle style and did not realize it. Vranken-Pommery Monopole, which, in addition to Champagne Vranken and Champagne Pommery, also owns Heidsieck, Company Monopole, Cuvée Diamant, Demoiselle, and Champagne Charles Lafitte, switched to the new bottle in 2003, and introduced it to the retail markets in 2007. Expect to see slimmer bottles from Veuve Cliquot and Moet-Chandon in 2013-2014.

The cost of the bottle is marginally less (dropping from 43 cents per bottle to about 41), but not enough to alter the pricing to the consumer. It will remain to be seen, however, if the savings resulting from the reduction in transportation costs will be offered to the Champagne lovers around the world.

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