All wines are not created equal, and as with most things, some are far more sustainably produced than others. I think we tend to imagine wine arriving at our table from some idyllic little vineyard in Italy or France. The truth, however, is that like almost any agricultural endeavor, viticulture has gone industrial and many giant vineyards depend heavily on the use of pesticides and herbicides to keep their vines productive. When choosing a sustainable wine, it is important to not only consider whether or not the wine is organic and if chemicals have been used in the growing period, but the rest of the production process as well. Every part of the system, from where the grapes are grown to the packaging and everything in between, affects the sustainability of the product.
Organic is important. However many organic wines have developed a bad rap for taste because by USDA standards wine cannot be considered organic if any sulfites are added. Sulfites, although not the best additive for us to ingest, play an important role in the preservation of the wine, and therefore the taste, and have been used as a stabilizer in wine for centuries. While it is of utmost importance that grapes are grown organically, it is perhaps less important is low amounts of sulfites have been added.
While searching for wines made with organically grown grapes is great, as many of us know, organic does not necessarily equate to sustainable. Though you might have to do a little research, choosing wine that comes from vineyards that practice sustainable or biodynamic agriculture is ideal. Even better is if the winery relies on renewable energy for the wine production, like solar or wind power, and conserves and reuses water. A few of well known wine-producing areas such as California, Oregon, are adopting localized, third-party certification standards that vineyards must meet to be officially labeled Òsustainable.Ó These standards are based on a variety of factors, ranging from energy efficiency to local ecosystem preservation. The energy and resources put into bottling, labeling, and distribution should also be considered.
There are a few wineries and vineyards that really stand out as aiming to be as sustainable as possible. Perhaps the largest is Paducci, which is part of a larger wine operation in Mendocino, California. Paducci is completely carbon neutral, using both solar and wind power as well as biodiesel-powered tractors and are committed to organic farming and pest control. FrogÕs Leap of Napa Valley practices organic and dry farming techniques, conserving water and working with the local environment. They are also on their way to becoming LEEDS certified and use 100% solar energy. The Òtetra prismaÓ multi-layered, collapsible containers that French Rabbit ÒbottlesÓ its wine in are less traditional but much more environmentally friendly than glass, which is very heavy to ship. It is good to note, however, that tetrapak containers are not yet widely recycled in the US as they are in Europe.
While these wineries are certainly stellar, I can't help but put in a plug for all of the small wineries that are popping up everywhere. Local wines from small vineyards are often conscious practitioners of sustainable viticulture and in tune with the local environment. A huge benefit of drinking local wine is that the wine doesnÕt travel far to get to your glass. Scope out the vineyards in your area, and you just may find a local version of that idyllic, family-run vineyard of your imagination.