There's been a lot of talk about "green" wines recently, so in honor of Earth Day we decided to break down the journey from the vine to the bottle to determine how a wine gets the green stamp. These days there are many shades of green so we are looking at four buzzwords to define what it means to be green: sustainable, organic, biodynamic and natural.
Sustainable wine is made with three main goals: environmental stewardship, economic profitability and social and economic equity. Sustainable winemakers do this by pursuing healthy and productive vines for current and future generations, taking care of those that work the land and giving back to the community - all while furthering business goals. Once hard to define and certify, organizations like California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine and SIP (Sustainability in Practice) are making sure sustainable wineries have guidelines to follow.
Much like food, organic wine has to be able to check a lot of boxes in order to be certified by the USDA. First of all, it must not contain any added sulfites, which is tricky as most winemakers and wineries add some. While we are on the subject, sulfites are a misunderstood part of the winemaking process, as grapes actually naturally produce sulfites during fermentation, meaning nearly all wines have some sulfites.
As for certifications, the majority of organic wines are either certified by regional organic entities such as California Certified Organic Famers or Oregon Tilth, rather than the USDA, or use the term "made with organically grown grapes" on labels. This means no fungicides or pesticides are used in the vineyards. These processes are replaced by crop rotation, cover crops, compost and biological pest control.
Creating biodynamic wines is an entirely different animal - quite literally - as the practices are all about treating the vineyard as a self-sustaining organism. Biodynamic wineries use herbs, minerals and manure for sprays and composts. The vine care and harvesting follows the astronomical calendar, and focus is paid on the well-being of all the integral parts that make up the whole of the vineyard. Demeter is the only certifying body for Biodynamic wines.
Natural is a newer term used in the wine industry with the theory of: nothing added, nothing taken away. A natural wine is typically one made with organic grapes, as well as produced using minimal intervention in the winery. Winemakers use n additives, native yeasts, minimal or no filtration or fining, and as few sulfites as possible.
Packaging and beyond
Some wine producers are thinking beyond the wine making process, and are going green when it comes to packaging. Packaging like kegs, cans and pouches, as well as Tetra Pak cartons (made primarily from paper), which have previously only been associated with other beverages, are making their way into the wine industry. Many wineries are also switching to lighter-weight wine bottles as less glass means less energy, shipping weight and materials to recycle.
Additionally, wineries are turning to green energy sources to power their facilities. Some are investing in solar panels to harness the glorious sun that falls on their vines and use the energy to power the wineries. Kendall-Jackson is the latest to install a rooftop solar cogeneration system at its Kittyhawk winery in Windsor, Calif.
As if there weren't already so many wonderful wines to try, these eco-friendly endeavors are making sipping even more interesting.
Follow Gwendolyn Osborn on Twitter: www.twitter.com/gwendolwine