A NOTE FROM CARAVAN ON SUSTAINABILITY
As a buyer for the wine/beer/spirits department, we work primarily with distributors that are independent. By law we have to work with a distributor that is based in Wisconsin. However, there are numerous distributors whose products are all international brands. So, working with those large distributors doesn't really contribute any dollars to anything that benefits the local community. That is why our independent distributors are so valuable to us. We know that all of the products in their portfolio are hand selected by them, and that they've also vetted these products to meet similar standards that we hold: products are made by independent growers/producers, working in harmony with nature through minimal interventionist practices (meaning little to no additives to their products). As an independent shop, when Caravan works with independent distributors we are putting money and resources directly back into a family operation in multiple ways: through the distributor, then through the importer, then through the grower/producer wherever they may be. And, while the grower/producer may be practicing outside of Wisconsin, and even outside of this country, we feel that we are supporting their practices of non-interventionist alcohol production which in turn furthers the viability for these types of products. (This can be a big challenge when large brands (and their conventional/chemical/
mechanized practices) are pushed into every corner of the market and consumer mindset through big bucks. Ka-ching!!)
At times it can be difficult (but not impossible) to maintain working with these independent distributors we speak of. They do not have a large staff (could be as small as 1 person, or as large as 3 people). Therefore, obtaining product here in central wisconsin requires strategic purchasing schedules to make deliveries economically sound for them and us. The accessibility of a larger type of distributor has the attraction of convenience: ability to deliver weekly, with no minimum purchase amount. However, what we gain in convenience, we stand to lose with product integrity. So, if we were to run out of some products from our preferred distributors, before turning towards convenience, we'd rather teach our customers the reality of where our products come from, how they are made, why it can be difficult to obtain them, and then show the customer another selection that could still meet their needs. When we do this, we increase the perceived value of what we are offering, because now the customer has a deeper understanding of what is involved in the transaction. This doesn't mean the customer is happy, or that they end up choosing something from our shelves. But at the very least, we hope they come to realize how exceptional are the products and producers we choose to work with.
While this may expand upon the recognized definition of "sustainable", I think it's important to include HOW we encourage people to interact with the products we sell. There can be all the proper environmental practices put into the sourcing and selling of any product, but what do we care about what someone does with the thing once it leaves our shop? This is an important question. At the base level, we are a retail shop that is part of a chain helping to move products from one end to another. Since we are participating in that, we want to consider the way and the how something moves, at least from our shop to their next stop (which could be a dinner party, a home bar, a birthday gift, etc.). What is a "sustainable" form of alcohol consumption? This is historically hard to measure and seems to vary depending on the consumer and point of view. We feel that by having a more informed understanding of what the product is, in relation to the purpose the product is being applied to, this allows for more sustainable consumption, and less abuse. Does this connection make sense? We want lots of customers, from all walks of life, to come through the door at Caravan to experience our shop and the bottles on our shelves. That said, we want the interaction to be a thoughtful one that leads the customer to a full sensorial experience and deep satisfaction. This is not about quantity. This is about quality. Not only quality of product, but quality of exchange with the product itself. We attempt to ignite the curiosity of all our customers, so that what they consume leads to new thoughts/ideas/actions/
interactions. We call this Transformative Consumption. It's beyond sustainable: it's regenerative.
Regarding the sourcing of our products, I'd say the majority of them are made from sustainable/organic/natural methods of production. While there are several wines, for example, that we have access to that are promoted to us as "sustainably farmed", we question the actual significance of the term and how sustainable anything involving chemical sprays on vineyards or chemical additions in the winery can truly be. Sustainable for what? Are we considering the health of the flora and fauna of an environment? How sustainable can irrigation be in a place (like California) that has no freshwater of its own to draw from? And on the part of a consumer, how sustainable is it to drink wines/beers/spirits whose base is built from fruit/grains that are grown with chemicals? Wouldn't you say that the body (and the earth) ends up absorbing these things in ways that are unsustainable? Again, I think these are important things to consider when using the word sustainable.
Finally, regarding the sustainability of the package of the majority of our products: the glass bottle. I don't know enough about the next life of an empty wine or beer or spirits bottle. From the little I do know, it takes a lot of energy to recycle glass, and it also takes the proper facilities. If we don't have the facility in our county, then the glass becomes trash. On another point: the sustainability of making glass and then shipping it filled with alcohol is very heavy and costly. While it is somewhat sad to imagine, I do foresee a future where the shelves in a shop like ours might be filled with cardboard boxes that are lined with a plastic bladder that is filled with the alcohol stated on the box. It's a more energy efficient choice regarding shipping, transportation and short term storage. Again, I'm not so sure about the sustainability of a plastic wine bladder versus that of a glass bottle, but there are plenty of people arguing that the bladder is better in many respects. Which leaves me with a question: How sustainable is nostalgia?