With carbon-neutral alcohol having come and gone, breweries, distilleries and vineyards are now shooting for carbon-negative offerings.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
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Fighting climate change is a personal issue for wineries. Grapes are fussy and must be harvested at just the right point for the wine to get the right acidity. However, the unpredictable temperatures, while opening up regions once unfavourable for grapes, have shifted harvest seasons drastically.

Peter Yealands established Yeelands Wines in New Zealand in 2008 and is dedicated to innovative, land-focused viticulture. He is aiming to reduce the group’s emissions by 80 per cent come 2045.

A large solar panel installation, three wind turbines and two burners for vine prunings supply a quarter of Yealands’ energy needs. Water comes from the Awatere River and is stored in dams. The winemaker also has Babydoll and Merino sheep to help trim the vines, reducing mowing and spraying. Free-range chickens deal with pests, inter-row crops and flowers attract pollinators, and some 200,000 native shrubs and flaxes are planted around the property. These improve soil quality while promoting biodiversity by attracting local fauna.

It’s no wonder Yealands undergoes detailed annual carbon auditing and is the first and only Toitu Envirocare zero-carbon certified winery in New Zealand.
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What do you get when you mix carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) from the air, sunlight and water? Usually, nothing much. But Air Company, a New York-based technology and lifestyle firm started by Greg Constantine and Dr Stafford Sheehan, has found a way to make Air Co. Vodka. Unlike the traditional stuff, made by fermenting grains such as corn, potato and wheat, Air Co.’s patented technology first divides water into hydrogen and oxygen, and then uses renewable solar electricity to turn carbon from the air into pure ethanol that’s then mixed with the hydrogen to create alcohol and water. Distilling removes the water, leaving behind the impurity-free alcohol. This carbon negative offering is said to remove 454g of carbon from the air with every bottle produced.
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Devon-based Two Drifters Distillery’s owners Russ and Gemma Wakeham are eager to prove small businesses can go carbonnegative. Though the signature Black Sails rums are distilled from 100 per cent pure imported molasses, the firm takes pains to use only zero-emission renewable energy to improve its water efficiency and offset any remaining carbon produced. To this end, it is working with Climeworks, which uses off-site plants powered by geothermal energy to capture ambient CO 2 and store it as chalk in caverns formerly used for mining and oil extraction. Two Drifters is also experimenting with using CO 2 for carbonated drinks.
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Sustainability is about far more than just committing to a couple of solar panels, recycling and certifications. And director John Stirling of Arbikie distillery is leading the charge.

The field-to-bottle distillery recently unveiled Nadar (“nature” in Gaelic) gin, a brew developed by master distiller Kirsty Black with a carbon footprint of -1.54 kg of carbon dioxide (CO2) per bottle. Nadar is flavoured with classic botanicals like juniper, lemongrass and lime leaves – all grown on the estate off the Scottish east coast. What’s more, its main ingredient – the pea – draws nitrogen from the air, restoring soil nitrogen levels and reducing Arbikie’s reliance on synthetic nitrogen fertiliser. And the protein-rich by-product of this distillation, known as pot ale, is great animal feed.

The Stirling family has championed other green ventures like Tattie Bogle Vodka, Scotland’s first potato vodka that John Stirling affectionately calls “wonky veg” or potatoes deemed too ugly for the supermarket shelf. It has also reintroduced some 5,000 native trees and bushes on its land to support local wildlife. Some of the trees will see eventual use in oak casks.