Dissecting Eco-Friendly Wine Buzzwords
It's no secret that shopping for wine can be overwhelming.
The amount of wine to choose from is one thing; deciphering the buzzwords on labels and marketing adds extra effort to finding your new bottle to take home.
For the environmentally conscious wine shopper, words like "sustainable," "biodynamic," and "organic" are essential when deciding on the next bottle you want to open. As more and more bottles with those buzzwords are placed on shelves, it's critical to understand their meanings and what it means for the wine in the bottle.
The wine industry is seeing a shift. People buying environmentally friendly wine options are increasingly more interested in wineries' commitments to leaving a positive footprint on the Earth. The grapes wouldn't grow without it, and wine wouldn't be possible. A wine being sustainable, biodynamic, or organic are all identifiers of a climate-conscious intention, so here's what those mean specifically.
One of the most common descriptors of produce, organic products have become a staple in grocery stores. It's more challenging than slapping a sticker on an orange. Growers of organic products must adhere to a strict set of guidelines before selling their products as organic.
According to the California Certified Organic Farmers Foundation, farmers are prohibited from using most synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and GMOs. Certified organic produce must be grown on land free of prohibited substances for three years, and national standards include restrictions on preservatives, dyes, and flavors.
What that means for wine:
The USDA holds organic wine to the same standards as any organic produce, but the winemaking process must also be certified. Winemakers have to use organic yeast, and there are limitations to using other ingredients like sulfites in making their wine.
A wine marketed as "made with organic grapes" means that the grapes were grown organically, but the winemaking process was not certified. So for a wine to be marketed fully as "organic," the entire process must be certified.
Sustainability is a set of values that is being adopted widely by many different industries. Its emergence in the wine industry is also vital for people making conscious wine-buying decisions. Fortunately, sustainably made wine is another rigorous set of requirements wineries and vineyards must follow.
Through organizations like the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance and Sustainable In Practice, winemakers and vineyard owners can apply to have their facilities certified sustainable.
Individual organizations will have their respective guidelines, but an assessment will generally look at common factors. Efficient water use, biodiversity, energy use, use of chemicals, and wastewater management are a few examples to determine if a winery or vineyard is operating sustainably.
Some organizations like Sustainable In Practice (or SIP) have a stamp wineries and vineyards can put on their final product.
The organizations responsible for certifying the winemaking process have their principles and guideline accessible on their website for a more detailed look at what they require from their vineyards and wineries.
Biodynamic farming adds a philosophical spin to a systematic approach to eco-friendly agriculture. From the Biodynamic Association itself,
Biodynamics is a holistic, ecological, and ethical approach to farming, gardening, food, and nutrition.
A biodynamic operation conducts itself based on the principles of an interconnected system. Every farmer's decision is vital in treating the farm as one living organism. While the movement started in the 1920s with a spiritual approach to farming, there are concrete steps for farmers to take to be called biodynamic.
For vineyards, using chemicals is prohibited and replaced with natural compost alternatives. A biodynamic calendar influences decisions such as when to prune and harvest. That calendar considers factors like moon phases to determine the appropriate time to conduct specific tasks around the farm.
Demeter is the only certification organization in the United States that certifies farms and products. Demeter also has a stamp that certified producers can put on their bottles:
Demeter and the Biodynamic Association have detailed standards accessible on their websites for a more detailed description of certification requirements.
Growing, making, and selling eco-friendly wine is a moral decision for many vineyards and wineries, even Sampl. Using identifiers like organic, sustainable, and biodynamic serve a purpose to someone looking for their next bottle of wine and aren't just buzzwords thrown around the wine world.