Organic, sustainable, and biodynamic: these buzzwords are frequently tossed around in the wine industry, but we understand it can sometimes be hard to understand what they actually mean. More than just casual terms, they define an ethos that many mindful winemakers follow. While they may heed to different principles, at the core, each of these practices is built on a similar foundation that puts environmental responsibility as top priority.
Certification, particularly for organics, is a long and expensive process, which is why more and more wineries are following these practices without applying for the official seal. Other specialized certifications have sprung up over time that focus on specific aspects of sustainability. But you may be wondering, what’s the difference between them and why go through the certification process in the first place?
“Organic” is the only term regulated by the government as opposed to a third party certification program. There are two accepted levels in the U.S.: “organically grown grapes,” which eschews the use of chemicals in the vineyards, and “organic wine,” which also incorporates practices in the winery.
Biodynamics is similar to organics, but views the vineyard as an entire ecosystem. It considers lunar cycles and its own proprietary calendar when determining when to plant, harvest, and perform other viticultural tasks (there’s even a calendar that tells you which days are the best days to drink wine!).
Sustainability offers a bit more flexibility in terms of what is allowed in the vineyard – both organic and biodynamic practices are allowed – but sustainability also has a commitment to social and environmental responsibility for workers and the greater community.
Regardless of the actual term, wineries that put these practices to use do it because it’s either good for the environment, good for the grapes, and/or good for you. As we become more aware of what we eat and what goes into the items we use every day – even the ingredients in our beauty products – it’s only natural that we consider how our wine is being made. Not only is it important on a personal level, but these practices have widespread effects on our environment and community as a whole. We’re all for ways to improve our surroundings and make healthy choices for us and for future generations, so we’ve rounded up a list of some of the most ecologically mindful wineries in the country.
Wine companies with estates in multiple regions have been able to extend their commitment to other parts of the country. Long Meadow Ranch Winery in Napa Valley farms their vineyards in Anderson Valley, Rutherford, and Mayacamas all organically. Long Meadow Ranch takes a full-circle organic approach, making sure each part of the ranch contributes to the health of the whole, including vineyards, olive groves, Highland cattle, heirloom vegetables, and livestock. They also recently purchased Stony Hill Vineyard, a historic property on Spring Mountain, as a way to help the current owners convert their vineyards to organic. Bonterra, who has been certified organic for 30 years, sources fruit from sites all across California. As one of the early adopters of organic farming, they take a very hands-on approach, working with their grower-partners to convert to organics and providing necessary tools and education needed for the conversion.
For wineries looking to move towards biodynamics, Demeter USA, a division of the international organization, is the de facto certification to acquire. In 2008, DeLoach received their organic certification through California Certified Organic Farmers, and quickly moved to biodynamic practices. About a year and a half later, they received their award from Demeter for their estate vineyards and garden. Hedges Family Estate in the Red Mountain AVA in Washington State started converting to biodynamics in 2006 when Sarah and Tom Hedges’ daughter, Ann-Marie, took over winemaking duties. Today they are one of only two wineries in the state committed to biodynamic farming, paving the way for other wineries in Washington State. Benziger Winery‘s grower partners are all certified sustainable or organic, but their estate vineyards have all received the Demeter stamp of approval. They share these philosophies with visitors through three experiences: the Tribute Estate Tour, which offers guests a tour of their Sonoma Mountain Vineyard, the Biodynamic Vineyard Tram Tour, or a personalized guided tour of the estate vineyards led by Chris or Jill Benziger.
Red Tail Ridge in the Finger Lakes of New York and Silver Oak Cellars in Napa Valley think outside of the bottle, so to speak, when considering sustainability. In 2009, Red Tail Ridge received the first Gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification in the state for their facility. Water conservation, solar energy use, and geothermal heating are just a few of the elements that help the winery operate while reducing emissions. Back in July, Silver Oak raised the bar with their Platinum LEED Certified “new construction” winery in Alexander Valley, the first in the world. Back in New York, Sparkling Pointe, located on Long Island’s North Fork, was the first Greenlogic certified Zero Energy Warehouse in the state. Simply put, the storage facility uses the same amount of energy that it produces, which is pretty astounding.
In the last ten years, the people part of the winemaking equation has come into greater focus. In 2008, McIntyre Vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands created the Sustainability in Practice (SIP) Certified designation. Not only is attention paid to the vineyards, but the well-being of workers is also placed in high regard. Employees are guaranteed fair wages and health insurance, as a matter of fact. Education is also placed at a premium; nearby Hahn Family Wines, an early adopter of the program, provides training and mentorship to their long-term loyal employees.
Sometimes, doing nothing is the best thing. On Spring Mountain in Napa Valley, Smith-Madrone practices what is known as dry farming. They don’t irrigate; instead they let natural rainfall nourish plants. By not automatically providing water, vines learn to adapt to different weather conditions naturally. Winemaker Stu Smith believes this technique produces complex, concentrated fruit. In Sonoma, the Certified California Sustainable St. Francis Winery not only composts all food scraps and recycles harvest grape byproducts to use locally as fertilizer, but their bottles are made from 45% recycled glass and cartons are comprised of over 55% recycled materials. In Oregon, the sustainable winery Left Coast Cellars is also certified Salmon Safe, which helps the salmon population by protecting watersheds and water quality to ensure a thriving ecosystem in the country’s water sources.
As the wine industry continues to evolve, winemakers realize the importance of being stewards of the land and working in a way that paves the path for generations to follow. By working sustainably, they hope to guarantee their legacy. It’s a forward-thinking approach to farming and winemaking that more and more people are paying attention to and for good reason.
Cover photo courtesy of Bonterra