Updated: Jan 8
It used to be that quality and flavor were the barometers for wine - and maybe price. Ok, certainly the price. Sure, trendy boutique labels were a draw too. Call me guilty. But, over the last few years eco-friendliness is something that we’re seeing on more wine labels and in the description for more wineries.
But boy is it a head-spinner. Certified Organic, SIP, Certified Sustainable, Green Napa, Salmon Safe, Demeter Certified, Live Sustainable, Biodyvin and the list goes on. You might need a decryption program to figure it all out.
I put a little cheatsheet together to help understand the various approaches wineries and growers are adopting to make greener wines, and yes the stars and moon are important.
As Captain Barbosa in Pirates of the Caribbean said about the “code” - come on you liked it too - “think of them more like guidelines.”
The organizations and wineries that practice sustainability focus on three areas: ecologically sound practices, economic viability and social responsibility. While there are some restricted chemicals, for the most part the emphasis is on development and adoption of best practices for sustainable agriculture, energy use and interaction with workers and the community.
Sonoma’s SIP (Sustainable in Practice) includes membership of over 97% of the farming acreage in the Sonoma Winegrowers Association, making it the leader in sustainability by participation. California’s Certified Sustainable Program covers 200+ best practices against which wineries must achieve a certain threshold to qualify. Live Certifies is the more common identifier in Oregon and Washington.
“If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it,” says Jimmy Dugan in a League Of Their Own.
Certified organic standards are set by the USDA. In general they address issues of soil quality, pest and weed control and input materials. The use of GMOs and most synthetic pesticides and fertilizers is prohibited. It’s a tough process to get certified and takes a lot of time.
Wine drinkers looking for organic wines should be aware that there are two types of certified organic labels. Wines made from “organically grown grapes” and “organic wines”, the latter meaning that not only is the fruit organic, but there have been no restricted additions, like sulfites, added to the wine during production. By the way, even “organic wines” have naturally occurring sulfites - just sayin’.
“I am one with the force, and the force is one with me,” they say in Starwars, Rogue One.
The power of interconnectedness, Biodynamics considers the vineyard holistically as an ecosystem and outlines practices that align the earth, the life upon it and the solar system. Like organic farming, no synthetic chemicals are used, but Biodynamics goes beyond the physical.
Born of the work of Rudolph Stiener, in the 1920s to integrate scientific understanding with the sense of spirit in nature, biodynamics farms are considered living organisms that are meant to foster biodiversity and bring plants and animals together. But in addition to special concoctions of organic substances like ground bones and animal horns, biodynamic practices also follow astronomical markers to determine optimal timing for sowing, transplanting, cultivating, harvesting, and using those special biodynamic preparations.
There’s a perception of biodynamics as a little too “out there” for most, but the practitioners counter with the fact that they show remarkably consistent results with improved soil quality and plant and animal health. There are currently two certifications for biodynamics: Demeter and Biodyvin.
Like organic certification, wines can be made with “Biodynamic grapes” or they can be “Biodynamic wine” which means that none of the typical additions or enhancements in wine making, like adding yeast or acid adjustment, were utilized in making the wine.
So the next evening that you’re enjoying that special glass of wine, make a toast to moon and stars to thank them for their delicious contribution.