Certified Sustainable Wine
Lately, I have been seeing more and more wineries claiming that they are “Certified Sustainable" and it got me wondering, what is the difference between “Sustainable” and "Organic"?
Both systems value soil and water, and how it affects not only the plants, but also animal and microbes.
To be considered a certified "Sustainable" winegrower in California, growers must adhere to a set of guidelines established by the California Sustainable Winegrowers Alliance. According to their website, the program defines sustainable winegrowing as, “growing and winemaking practices that are sensitive to the environment (Environmentally Sound), responsive to the needs and interests of society-at-large (Socially Equitable), and are economically feasible to implement and maintain (Economically Feasible). The combination of these three principles is often referred to as the three "E's" of sustainability.”
For followers/believers of "terrior", sustainable winegrowing is particularly relevant. Caring for the vineyard's soil and environment is a basic necessity of terroir. In today’s health conscience society, some other benefits of sustainable winegrowing would include increased consumer interest, and a healthy place for growers and pickers to work. Participants assess their own vineyards and voluntarily contribute data to measure their adherence of sustainable practices.
"Organic" refers to the USDA's National Organic Program, which provides the official "organic" certification. Participation in this program requires verification that the required guidelines and regulations have been practiced (unlike the voluntary nature of sustainable growing). According to their website, “Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.”
The important point to remember is that “sustainable” does not mean “organic”, and “organic” does not mean “sustainable”. They can be easily confused by the average consumer, but they are not interchangeable. “Sustainable “vineyards can use man-made chemicals to control pests, but the grower is evaluating the entire environmental system, and determining how best to keep the system in balance, while minimizing the affects on the ecosystem. “Organic” vineyards are managed without the use of pesticides, man-made chemicals, or fertilizers.
While we have been reviewing what goes on in the vineyard, these same practices are carried over into the winemaking process, and can affect the final product you receive in your glass. It is important for consumers to understand all these different terms that are thrown out there. In addition to “sustainable” and “organic”, watch for “biodynamic” wines. I had briefly written about these in a previous blog about Ampelos Cellars.
So, next time you are in a winery, or even a wine shop, ask some questions about the type of farming used for the grapes, and practices the winemaker and winegrower follow. See if you can taste the difference, and experience the “terrior” of that winery.