These days we hear a lot about sustainability. Quite right too, as we now understand that our impact on the planet and its ecosystems needs to be minimised and some of the damage repaired. The world of wine has an advantage over many industries, in that it uses natural products and its processes have been sustainable since they first began thousands of years ago. Many winemakers take this even further and use biodynamic methods to really keep in tune with nature (click here to learn more about Jean-Claude Rateau, for example, the godfather of biodynamic methods in Burgundy). Now, as if one were needed, there is another reason to raise a glass. News comes from the World Endurance Championship Le Mans Race that wine by-products can help to create super environmentally friendly fuel for motor racing. Yes, you read that right—in 2022, the race will feature cars powered by wine (the waste products of winemaking, in fact).
Fuel supplier TotalEnergies finds itself in the fortunate position of being situated near to winemaking country, which means it is perfectly placed to take advantage of some of the waste products coming from the industry. Wine lees and grape pomace—two by-products of the winemaking process—are used to create bioethanol. This is then fermented, distilled and blended with a small amount of another chemical (a sustainable ethanol by-product from the so-called ‘circular’ economy). The resulting fuel can reduce O2 emissions by an impressive 65%, and it’s 100% renewable.
In the winemaking process, lees are the dead yeast cells leftover from the process of fermentation. Some are large particles which separate quickly from the wine and some are smaller, taking longer to settle. Winemakers use them to impart complexity to white wines; the longer they are left in, the more complex the flavor and ‘mouthfeel’ of the wine. If you ever see the words ‘sur lie’ on a wine label, you’ll know it means ‘on the lees’, and that the wine has spent time being aged whilst in contact with these sediments. The Domaine Oudin, one of the producers that Elden Selections works with, uses steel tanks for natural fermentation as the wines age on their lees. This allows them to develop the minerality and vivacity offered by the native soils and to express the very specific ‘terroirs’ they are grown on.
As far back as 2008, a story emerged that the UK’s Prince Charles—a well-known ecowarrior who has been known to talk to the odd plant or two in his spacious greenhouses—converted his Aston Martin to run on fuel made from English wine waste and whey. Earlier this year, news also came from the whisky industry in Scotland, that the Glenfiddich distillery had begun successfully running delivery trucks on the biogas collected from its own distilling processes. This sort of ‘closed loop’ or ‘circular’ initiative is the sort of truly sustainable process that many businesses can only dream of.
But the innovation in wine waste processing doesn’t stop at motor fuel. It also extends to the fashion industry, with the creation of footwear and other items made from ‘wine leather’. The clothing industry has had its own share of negative press regarding its sustainability, and help has come from an unlikely source. Grape seeds and fibres leftover from winemaking known as ‘grape marc’ or pomace can be formed into soft, leather-like material and made into a variety of things, including trainers.
Next time you take a sip of your favourite wine (Burgundy, we hope!) take a moment to think not just of where the grapes have come from, but of where the bits not used in your glass will be going. Perhaps the next race car you see is powered by the same vine that produced your Chardonnay.
Read more about organic producers on our website. And don't forget to check out Elden Selection’s Burgundy Wine Club. The club offers members the chance to find out more about the wines of Burgundy, sending four shipments per year. Members also receive invitations to member-only virtual events in the US; 2 specially selected wine glasses; tasting notes; and the chance to win a stay at the Burgundy manor house Domaine de Cromey.