The advent of refrigerated shipping containers—“reefers”—toward the end of the last century allowed winegrowers to transport their bottles across oceans without damage and at constant temperatures. But it came at a huge cost to the environment, as ocean shipping creates more CO2 pollution than do most countries.
Three years ago, twin brothers in Brittany began to give European winegrowers concerned with global warming an option—shipping wine to the U.S. in the refrigerated hold of a specially built 80-foot schooner, the Grain de Sail, that leaves virtually no carbon footprint crossing the Atlantic.
Standing aboard the ship recently in Brooklyn harbor, CEO Jacques Barreau explained, “We have three pillars of our business—preserving the environment, doing social good and making a profit,” adding, “if we aren’t profitable, then the business isn’t sustainable.” To do this, the Grain de Sail transports up to 50 tons of cargo on the three legs of its twice-a-year voyages—wine to America, donated medical and health supplies to the Dominican Republic and, finally, raw coffee and cacao grown there back to Brittany, where the company processes them into gourmet goods sold in France.
On its four voyages to date, Grain de Sail has transported organically grown wines from small Loire Valley producers, selections from Château Maris—its largest customer—in the south of France and, on its just-completed, 24-day passage, 1,440 bottles of Charles Heidsieck’s relaunch of the tête de cuvée, “Champagne Charlie,” created to celebrate the 200th birthday of the company’s founder who traveled the Atlantic by sail before the Civil War to get Americans hooked on the classic bubbly.
Wine transport is so much in demand, Barreau says, “We’ve ordered a second ship, Grain de Sail 2, that will be twice as long and hold five times as much cargo.” Perhaps the next innovation in sustainability will be to list a wine’s carbon footprint for shipping on its label―if that step hasn’t been taken already.
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