Guide to sustainable, natural and organic wine

For thousands of years, people have picked, crushed, pressed, and fermented grapes to make wine. These days, when you walk into the supermarket’s wine aisle, you find the same staple drink, but with many different flavors, colors and labels. As an environmentally conscious shopper, that bottle of alcohol might be labeled as organic, natural, or sustainable, but knowing exactly what those words mean for the planet can be tricky.

Studies show that environmentally conscious consumers are willing to pay more for a bottle of wine marked as “sustainable”. A recent survey by the Wine Institute shows that millennials and Gen Z consumers in particular are increasingly interested in sustainability. Yet all interested U.S. wine consumers say they would spend up to $ 3 more on sustainably produced wine.

Allison Jordan, executive director of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, says she believes sustainable wine won’t just be the happy hour trend this season. “It’s definitely deeper in terms of people who really care about how food is grown and what it’s produced. “

What do all these labels mean?

Some of the definitions you see on wine labels mean similar things and even overlap in some cases. In the United States, certified organic wine is made from organically grown grapes and contains no added sulfites. Some consumers say sulfites cause headaches, but medical professionals say there isn’t much evidence for it. The culprit may be another ingredient in wine (or maybe the headaches are just from excessive ingestion). Sulphites are naturally occurring, but some are added to prevent wine from spoiling and give it a longer shelf life. Wine can also come from grapes grown organically, but not converted to wine according to organic standards, which means it may contain sulfites and will not carry the USDA organic logo.

Natural wine does not have a specific definition. Generally, it is wine made from grapes grown without pesticides, picked by hand, then fermented with wild yeasts naturally present in the environment. There is no specific certification for natural wine in the United States, but France recently decided on an official definition and rules for what can be called natural wine.

There is also no single definition of sustainable wine, but it encompasses many categories of agriculture and winemaking. Different groups certify sustainable wine, such as the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing and others around the world. In California, Jordan says there is a list of sustainability practices that vineyards or wineries must follow to achieve certification, in many categories, including water and energy efficiency and soil health.

Sustainability means more than the environment in which a grape is grown. The operation of a winery or vineyard for the employees and the community is also important to the larger image of sustainability, which encompasses the safety of employees and accountability to customers and the surrounding farms and neighborhoods. , says Jordan. “It can be as simple as letting the neighbors know how to contact the owner or the winery if they have any questions or concerns,” she says, or offering plenty of child care for employees who work during the harvest.

How are wineries and vineyards certified as sustainable?

Dozens of sustainable practices can occur throughout the stages of the winemaking process. “There are your grape growing practices, there are your wine making practices, and then there is the whole aspect of hospitality,” says Chris Gerling, senior extension associate at the experiment station. New York State Farmer from Cornell University.

A vineyard can work on its sustainability through agricultural practices. In California, some examples of vineyard requirements include limited application of nitrogen fertilizers, water conservation practices, and the use of low risk pesticides.

In New York City, Cornell helped develop a program called VineBalance: A Guide to Sustainable Growing Practices in the State. Although it is not a certification program, it does provide a self-assessment booklet for producers. The tally sheet includes considerations on soil nutrients, fertilizers, application of herbicides and pesticides, and more.

The use of water is a major factor in the production of wine like many forms of agriculture. In California, it takes over 300 gallons of water to produce a gallon of wine. Some wineries have engaged in a type of agriculture called dry farming, which tries to conserve soil moisture by producing crops during the dry season. This method of breeding has existed in the Mediterranean region for thousands of years.

Turning these grapes into wine can also use a lot of water, says Gerling. “You want everything to stay really clean to prevent spoilage… so that you can easily use lots and lots of water,” he says. Depending on the size of the cellar, between three and 20 gallons of water can be used to produce one gallon of wine.

For California certification, Jordan says vineyards and wineries are required to report on their water use, and an auditor verifies that information. Other sustainability certification groups operate similarly, such as LIVE certification in the Pacific Northwest. These third-party auditors audit wineries and vineyards at regular intervals to ensure compliance not only with water use guidelines, but also dozens of other environmental and community practices.

What if you want to find a sustainable wine?

Gerling says that with a growing demand for sustainable and eco-friendly products, large grocery chains are increasingly looking at certified wines to make buying a legitimately sustainable bottle of wine so easy and simple. easy as possible. Certifications, he says, “are still the best industry-wide signals we have to show that someone is committed to it.”

Many groups around the world have searchable databases of specific wineries, vineyards and wines that they have certified to their standards, including California Sustainable Wine, LIVE Certified, and Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing. And in many cases, your wine bottle label will feature the band logo, so you know you are immersing yourself in a lasting tasting experience.

Some vineyards and wineries may engage in sustainable practices but do not attempt to achieve certification as third-party auditing may be an additional cost. But a key element to look for is transparent information about their practices. No mention of environmental practices on a winery’s website can set off alarms, but when a winemaker shows he cares about water, energy, and community, these are solid signs that your wine is as good for the planet as it tastes.

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