“What boards are you riding?” asks Daniel Baron as he spies surfboards in the background when we meet on Zoom.
I’m here to talk about Daniel’s sustainability stance in winemaking, but before we get there our conversation circles surf breaks on the California coast, winter water temperatures, and equipment.
You see, Daniel’s a details guy. It’s a thread that runs through all his endeavors – whether that’s playing the Mandolin, or spending time on the ocean surfing, sailing and diving.
It’s Daniel’s love for the outdoors that first drew him to Napa in 1970, after migrating to San Francisco from Long Island in the heyday of ’68 – where he embarked on a career for the ages.
Daniel makes no excuses for his strong hippie roots. They’re what convinced him to spend the next fifty years outdoors, making wine for Silver Oak, Petrus, Dominus, and now Naked Wines – spending harvests in Napa, Bordeaux, and vineyards in between.
It’s his insight into the industry, coupled with a devotion to the natural world, that makes Daniel a vocal proponent of ditching wine capsules – the plastic or foil seal placed over the top of wine bottle closures.
“At this point, they’re just decorative,” he says. “It’s all just image.”
“Today, most of them are made from aluminum or tin. When you realize it’s mined in places like Indonesia and Nigeria, then shipped to Spain where it’s pressed and decorated, then shipped again to the US… the carbon footprint is huge.”
“You see, originally winemakers used lead to cover the corks to prevent rodents from chewing them in old cellars, or in the bottom of a ship,” Daniel explained.
Daniel also points out that this foil ends up in landfill, with around 10lbs of tin being used for every pallet of wine.
“Last year I made 16,000 cases for Naked. By not using capsules, we saved a literal ton of tin from going to landfill, as well as the associated carbon footprint of using it.”
The Napa icon pauses for a moment, turns to one side, and double-checks these numbers with a calculator – like I said, he’s a details guy.
Ask anyone in the industry, and they’ll declare sustainability is the most important topic in wine today – but until now, the focus has largely fallen on what goes on in the vineyards… not around the bottle.
The romanticism of viticulture, the process, and the story swallow consumer attention much more easily. But getting this meticulously produced drink into the glasses of wine drinkers is an eco-process often overlooked.
“There’s a trend to use heavier bottles,” laughs Baron. “Someone got it into people’s heads that a heavier bottle meant a better quality wine inside, so now we have a case of wine that usually weighs 35lb coming in at 50lb. That’s like a 36% increase in weight.
Glass is a big ask all around – and its increased costs and resources trickle all the way up the supply chain.
“We should be rewarding whose bottles are light,” Daniel said. “We really need to be conscious and conscientious about our natural resources, as winemakers, but also as a species.”
The third aspect of packaging that Daniel covers is the closure. “I’m a big believer in using natural closures,” he continues. “Cork is a renewable resource, it’s bark from a tree, and some of them can live for up to 100 years.”
“But the capsule thing. The whole irony of it is, that since I’ve been bottling wine without them, no one even notices.”
Turns out, it wasn’t the consumer demanding capsules on bottles this entire time – it was expired tradition.
There’s a lot of waste in the packaging and distribution of wine, much of which could be removed through tighter management.
Many points Daniel raises have remained unquestioned by the industry for years… and with Naked’s support, he’s ready to question it all.
“The difference between making a wave, or not making a wave, is millimeters,” explains Baron. “You just have to pay attention to the details.”
Follow Daniel Baron at Naked Wines
Nick Baines is a food and travel writer based in London.