Guide to buying an environmentally friendly wine

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Over the past few decades, consumers have become increasingly aware of how our food is produced, and the local and sustainable food movement has become the mainstream. Many Americans have switched to plant-based diets as awareness grows about industrial agriculture and harmful large-scale farming practices such as the use of synthetic pesticides, soil depletion, and harmful runoff from plants. fields loaded with fertilizer.

Still, wine – a commodity of major importance in culture and cuisine – is largely excluded from this conversation, though its the environmental impact is important. In France, where wine production represents only 3% of agricultural land, 20% of the country’s pesticide use occurs on vineyards, according to Decanter. Conventional vineyards are mostly monocultures that depend on the heavy use of pesticides and fungicides, thousands of pounds of which are used in California vineyards each year. Greenhouse gases are emitted by harvesting machines and CO2 as a by-product of the alcoholic fermentation process used by many winegrowers.


Finding sustainable, environmentally friendly wines requires a certain know-how, including a certain skepticism and a certain caution towards greenwashing. The FDA does not regulate the certifications or terminology on wine labels like many other foods, and there is no ingredient label on a bottle of wine.

The top four recognized wine labels to look for are organic, biodynamic, natural and sustainable. In general, organic wines avoid synthetic ingredients, biodynamic wines are created with a more holistic approach, natural wines use minimal processes and additives, and sustainable wines reduce waste and emissions. However, each of these terms is much more nuanced.

Biological

Like other food products with the USDA organic label, organic wineries do not use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or insecticides in their fields. This official label indicates that the winemaking processes (AKA vinification) were organic, using no sulphites – which help preserve wine and kill bacteria – which are not of natural origin, and ferment with only certified organic yeast.

The USDA also has a “made with organic grapes” label, meaning the grapes themselves were grown organically, but the winemaking process itself was not organic and small amounts of sulfites and non-organic yeasts could have been added.

This official government label is widely recognized for its rigorous certification process for farms, and is a reliable indicator of practices used in wineries.

Biodynamic

Founded by Rudolf Steiner, biodynamic agriculture is a holistic approach to agriculture, taking into account the entire ecosystem and mixing the spiritual with the scientific. This type of regenerative agriculture focuses on revitalizing degraded soils, increasing biodiversity and sequestering carbon to reverse climate change. For example, a biodynamic farm can raise bees, maintain vegetable gardens, make compost, and engage in other practices that benefit the entire farm ecosystem. Biodynamic farming is also somewhat spiritual and the planting / harvesting calendars are based on the lunar phases of the moon.

Like its organic counterparts, biodynamic winemaking does not use synthetic chemicals, and there is a similar difference between biodynamic wine and grapes grown in biodynamics: the former means that the winemaker used grapes grown in biodynamics and n ‘didn’t add yeast or make other adjustments to the product, while the latter means the grapes themselves were grown biodynamically, but the process itself was not necessarily biodynamic (AKA, the process fermentation could have used yeast additives, etc.).

The non-profit association Demeter certifies biodynamic wines and vineyards, and unlike most other wine certifications, the biodynamic label is recognized around the world.

Natural

By its most basic definition, natural wines use as few additives, chemicals and technological processes as possible; a natural wine in its purest form would be made from only fermented grape juice, unlike conventional wines which often contain sugars, colors, stabilizers and even animal additives like fish bladder and egg whites. While they aren’t necessarily made with organic or biodynamic grapes, many natural winemakers follow similar standards and don’t use any chemical inputs.

The natural wine production process is reminiscent of a more traditional way of making wine, not employing any artificial practices like filtration, mechanical separation, etc. The absence of sulphites is a common attribute of natural wine, although small amounts (10-25 parts per million, compared to 350 allowed in conventional wines) are generally considered acceptable in winegrower circles. Given the absence of sulphites and filtration processes, the stability of wine is often different; it may also appear cloudier, but many wine enthusiasts claim that the taste is superior to conventional wine. Unlike the United States, Europe has its own official label of natural wine.

Sustainable

“Sustainable” wine is sort of a generic term with several certifications underneath. Sustainable wineries tend to reduce waste and greenhouse gas emissions while conserving water, but the practices chosen are left to the discretion of the farmer.

The Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CCSW) label is one of most widely recognized, issued by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance for California wines, which represent 81% of all wines produced in the United States. The vineyard, the winery or both can be certified, and all are delimited by different labels. Considerations include pest, waste and water management, as well as employee rights.

LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Oenology) Certified is another recognized label for Pacific Northwest wineries that examines a region’s attributes and sets rules based on that region’s unique conditions; for example, some land use practices may be permitted in an arid region but not in a more humid region. Based in Lodi, California, where 1/5 of California grapes are grown, the Lodi Roles certification has many standards for its wines and cellars, including the Pesticide Environmental Assessment System (PEAS), which takes into account the impact of pesticides on the ecosystem and on winegrowers. Work is a primary consideration of SIP (Sustainability in Practice) certification as well.

So, how do you identify a truly environmentally friendly wine?

Many wine shops have separate sections for environmentally friendly wine, which is a good place to start. As you walk the aisles, look for the above certifications / labels; Keep in mind that organic is an official and highly regulated label in the United States, unlike the other three, although they educate consumers on the values ​​and practices of a vineyard or winery.

Certification is often a long, expensive and complicated process; becoming a certified organic farm takes three years and can cost up to $ 1,000. Some wineries may not have the time or resources to become certified, but still follow the same standards as those that are. Do your own research on wineries to find out what their practices are; some who are not certified might even go further than those who are when it comes to environmentally friendly practices and ethical labor standards.

If possible, look for local wines in your area (that is, if you live in a wine-producing state). Like local food, wines produced nearby require much less transportation and your business contributes to the local economy.

Environmentally friendly wines can be just as delicious as conventional wine, if not more! Discover food and wine list of 10 planet-friendly wines for recommendations to get started.

Linnea graduated from Skidmore College in 2019 with a BA in English and Environmental Studies, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. In addition to her most recent role at Hunger Free America, she interned at the Sierra Club in Washington, DC, Saratoga Living Magazine, and Philadelphia’s NPR member station, WHYY.

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