“Sustainable” is getting to be one of the hottest buzz words in wine, and for good reason. Americans in their 20s and 30s are especially concerned with our impact on the planet, and they gravitate toward organic and sustainably produced foods. Same with wine.
We all should be on that boat.
Oregon wine producers have been ahead of the curve in adopting vineyard practices such as low-input viticulture, organic and biodynamic farming, and they have built wineries that strive for energy efficiency.
As one measure of the widespread interest, the soil workshop “Bugs, Weeds and Pinot Noir” at Oregon Pinot Camp—an annual get-together in which vintners and members of the wine trade conduct workshops of an aspects of winegrowing—has grown into one of the most popular. In presenting information on sustainability and organic viticulture to audiences, the vintners sensed a strong interest in the topic.
“But then we watched as their eyes glazed over when we tried to explain the details,” says Pat Dudley, a founding partner in Bethel Heights Vineyard.
Eventually, that insight led to the new Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine program, which got underway with the 2008 vintage, whose wines are now arriving in the market (though a handful of 2007 wines qualified). Eight vintners came to San Francisco Tuesday to introduce the voluntary program, which allows the OCSW label to be used only on wines that come from Oregon vineyards farmed in an environmentally responsible manner, are made in a winery facility that follows responsible practices and attain certification from an independent agency.
Both the vineyards and the wineries must get separate certifications, from either LIVE (Low-Input Viticulture and Enology, inc.), USDA Organic, Demeter (for biodynamic) or Food Alliance. Starting in 2011, the vineyards and wineries must also be certified by Salmon Safe, a program that helps protects waterways and fish populations.
Winery certification covers elements such as energy use, quality of equipment, minimal sulfur dioxide levels and minimal use of other substances, cleanliness, solid waste management, and the health and safety of workers. One minor element that gets a thumbs-up from me is an emphasis on lighter, less obtrusive bottles.
For OCSW, a winery that buys its grapes from several vineyards—some certified as organic, others as LIVE, yet another as biodynamic—doesn’t have to parse the differences. The OCSW tag indicates that at least 97 percent of the grapes meet at least one of those criteria.
Eighteen of the state’s more prominent wineries have signed on. The OCSW label is approved for nearly 142,000 cases of wine, about 8 percent of the state’s total. The up side is that 34 percent of the state’s vineyard acreage already is certified sustainable, and that figure is growing. The goal, say the organizers, is to get every winery in the state on board.
Marketing did not play a key role in developing this program. “We started the LIVE program in 1997, and we have been fretting over how to market it ever since,” says Dudley. “Ultimately we decided to just go with it, even if it there’s no marketing benefit.”
“Sustainability is about the long term, not just selling a bottle of wine today,” says Bernie Lacroute, owner of WillaKenzie Estate. “It’s the right thing to do.”
“When you think about it, viticulture is a highly intrusive form of agriculture,” says Sam Tannahill, winemaker and partner in A to Z, Rex Hill and Frances Tannahill wineries. “It’s a monoculture, when diversity is better. Instead of the vines trailing along the ground and climbing up trees as nature intended, we make these little bonsai plants out of them and force them into straight rows like soldiers. This [program] is a way to pay back to the earth what we have been asking from it.”
Eric P Perramond — Colorado Springs, CO — April 8, 2010 7:58am ET
Willamette Valley Vineyards — Turner, OR — April 20, 2010 6:24pm ET
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