The wine industry is making a concerted effort to adopt environmentally responsible practices but sees a need for better education among both consumers and professionals on many “green” issues, according to two surveys of wine industry professionals and executives conducted by Robert Smiley, professor and director of wine studies in the Graduate School of Management at the University of California, Davis.

Survey of executives

As part of his 10th annual wine executives survey, Smiley gathered the opinions and projections of 28 heads of key wine operations, ranging from growers to vintners to distributors.

The executives interviewed said their firms were actively engaged in environmentally friendly business activities, such as package redesign, use of biodiesel fuel, wastewater reclamation and developing “green” building plans. They expressed concern over the lack of clarity in the industry and among consumers over what terms like “sustainable,” “green,” and “low carbon footprint” actually mean and how industry can genuinely adopt environmentally sensitive practices.

Survey respondents also said that rising prices for gas, electricity, supplies and transportation have significantly raised the cost of doing business across the industry at the same time that wine consumption has been hurt by the general economic downturn. They reported that consumers are responding to rising gas and food prices by dining out less and buying less wine, and noted that wine sales at both casual and high-end restaurants have suffered as a result.

“Despite that downturn in sales, the majority of the wine executives surveyed said that they believe the industry will survive the current economic slump on the strength of nonrestaurant sales, particularly the moderately priced $10-$14 wines,” Smiley said.

Survey of professionals

Smiley's survey of wine professionals, now in its 17th year, included responses from 73 vineyard and winery representatives across California.

Eighty percent of the vineyard representatives participating in the survey said they have used sustainable farming practices on at least part of their acreage during 2008. And 46 percent of the respondents said they have been, or plan to be, marketing their grapes as “sustainable” or “organic” during the current or upcoming year.

Survey participants predicted that the growing consumer perception of wine as an everyday beverage and the rising quality of California wines relative to their prices are the top factors that will impact California wine sales during the next three years. Growing recognition of the health benefits of wine, as well as the deregulation of direct shipping of wine, will likely also provide short-term boosts for the industry, they projected.

And for the first time, survey participants from the winery side of the industry noted that their firms are planning to introduce new, lighter-weight packaging for their wines.

Results of both the wine executives and wine professionals surveys are available online at www.gsm.ucdavis.edu/2008winestudy.