Ever wonder what makes a wine sustainable, organic or biodynamic? Or wonder what makes it all different? Well, we can help decode those green wine concepts for you below.
Sustainable farming has 3 goals: environmental stewardship, economic profitability and social and economic equity. That means that sustainable farmers are doing their best to give back to the environment and to the community, while also furthering their business. Sustainable farming may occasionally use synthetic materials, but only the least harmful and only when absolutely necessary. The goal is a healthy and productive soil that produces healthy vines and will continue to do so for future generations. Only a few certification opportunities exist for sustainable wines, including: LIVE (Low Input Viticulture & Enology), Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine and the California Sustainable Wine-Growing Alliance. Plenty of wineries and vineyards practice sustainability, but lack actual certification for their operation, so knowing more about the winery helps should you be making purchasing choices based on environmental stewardship.
Organic farming is one step up from Sustainable. Farmers use no synthetic materials and rely on natural fertilizers and pest control systems; the winery often uses minimal filtration and fining materials and natural yeasts. Most wines termed “organic” are made from organically grown grapes, so you will see “organically farmed” or “organically grown grapes” on the label. The key here is excluding the use of any synthetic materials in the vineyard – no fungicides, no pesticides. Instead, crop rotation, cover crops, compost and biological pest control are used for the vines. For a wine to be deemed “organic” by the USDA, it must contain no added sulfites. Sulfites act as a preservative, and while most producers using organically grown grapes use sulfites minimally, any addition of them deems the wine unworthy of the USDA’s “organic” label. But there are lots of other organizations other than the USDA that certify organic wines. Some of these organizations include California Certified Organic Foundation and Oregon Tilth.
The biodynamic movement started almost a century ago in the 1920’s. In response to growing concern among European farmers regarding crop vitality in an industry increasingly dominated by chemical materials, Dr. Rudolf Steiner gave a series of lectures presenting the farm as a self-sustaining, living organism that needed to follow the earth’s schedule rather than the farmer’s. In 1928, the organization Demeter was formed. Demeter International is still around today and is the only certifying body for Biodynamic wines. Biodynamic practices use herbs, minerals and even manure for sprays and composts. They also plan vine care and harvesting schedules according to the astronomical calendar. The way Demeter so accurately sums it up: “Biodynamic® agriculture is an ecological farming system that views the farm as a self-contained and self-sustaining organism. Emphasis is placed on the integration of crops and livestock, recycling of nutrients, soil maintenance, and the health and well-being of the animals, the farmer, the farm, and the earth: all are integral parts that make up the whole.” How you feel about the practice does not really matter because the end product is usually stellar.
It’s also important to note that there are many organic and biodynamic wineries in Europe who have been practicing this type of farming for decades or longer, but they have not been certified due to the cost or bureaucracy involved. Some of them just don’t see the point – they don’t plan to use it for marketing purposes and are just doing what has always made the best wines.
For finding “green” wines at wine.com, look for our green wine icon.
This represents those wineries using one of the above practices. And share with us your favorite “green” vineyards and wineries.