5 things to look for when a wine claims to be “sustainable”

It’s a word consumers hear all the time: sustainable. The concept contains an element of responsibility and commitment – to the environment, to the community, to the people at work. When people hear the word sustainability they think of efforts to do more good than harm and keep it that way.

But in the wine industry, the word can stand for anything from lip service to demonstrated action. Terms like organic and biodynamic are defined and are often the standard bearers of ecological responsibility. But some solid vineyards choose not to certify. Others may be in conversion. Others go beyond and find these labels less powerful. Some wineries lose their certification after a particularly difficult season, but remain faithful to values ​​considered environmental and social standards. Just because a wine or a winery isn’t organic or biodynamic on paper doesn’t mean it’s useless.

How to say? Here are five safeguarding factors that will help identify the behaviors behind the wine brand and facilitate an informed buying decision.

Is sustainable development defined?

Some wine regions have integrated the term sustainable in the official name or stamps of certification bodies. For example, Sustainable Austria was developed by the Association of Austrian Winegrowers to allow producers to self-certify on several factors, including climate neutrality, water and energy use, biodiversity, social norms, etc. If a product bears the logo (shown above), consumers can rest assured that the producer has met the steps to achieve it. In this case, the term sustainable was defined by several points.

This may also apply to individual growers. Jean-Baptiste Cordonnier and Nathalie Coipel Cordonnier are the owners of Château Anthionic in Bordeaux, where the grapes are grown organically. But the estate goes further than that, defining what is done not only for the production of the vine, but also to improve the area around the chateau with agroforestry, the planting of trees in and near the vines to reduce the impact of climate change and provide refuge. for wildlife. These are acts that, for now, are not defined by any official certification or stamp, but the winery itself defines and communicates these efforts to help consumers understand that the wine they buy reflects the values ​​of the biodiversity.

Does the winery do anything for its neighbours?

Taking a step back, one could argue that a company that is content to support itself could potentially do so at the expense of other stakeholders. Many of today’s most responsible wineries not only take care of their own land, people and resources, but also help causes or contribute to the community.

Symington Wine Estates is by no means a small business. As one of the most important wine producers in Portugal and in the world, this B Corp organization uses its influence to have a positive impact on the community and the wine industry as a whole. The organization has a clearly stated plan and was one of the first to join the International Wineries for Climate Action group. Not only the brand sustainablethey have a much greater impact that goes beyond the expressions of viticulture and winemaking.

But this type of business is not limited to wineries with a global footprint. Brooks Winery is one of Oregon’s most respected producers, and for good reason. Run by Janie Brooks Heuck, this family business donates 1% of its annual revenue to support Kiss the Ground, has planted 40,000 trees, is a B Corp and is certified biodynamic by Demeter.

Is there a greater presence in the game?

Sometimes a winery will need to demonstrate social or environmental responsibility before identifying itself as part of a larger entity. Each château in the Crus Bourgeois du Médoc classification, for example, must have obtained High Environmental Value certification. This is codified by the French government, ensuring that a property meets four elements: biodiversity conservation, plant protection strategy, fertilizer use management and water management.

LODI RULES is considered one of the strongest certifications focused on sustainability. It is exceptionally rigorous, self-defined by the organization as: “In agriculture, sustainability means farming that is environmentally and socially responsible while being economically viable.” Producers here pay a self-imposed grape tax to fund the Lodi Winegrape Commission’s research and educational efforts. What began as a grassroots initiative by a group of family farmers has grown into more than 1,200 certified vineyards in California, Washington and even Israel.

Does the organization have a trustworthy leader?

When a wine is associated with a leader who will put their own face, family and reputation on the line, it’s a good indicator that the product has a social and ecological ethos that would make most people proud.

An icon is Dr. Laura Catena, a fourth-generation Argentinian physician and winemaker at one of South America’s most respected wineries, Catena Zapata. She is also the author of Vino Argentino: An Insider’s Guide to Argentina’s Wines and Wine Region and co-author of Malbec Mon Amour. Within the wine industry, Catena is so respected that she is considered one of the most competent voices for communicating the rich history and relevant presence of wines not just from her estate, but from Argentina in his outfit. His father and winery owner, Nicolás Catena Zapata is also highly respected and a recipient of Passionate about wineLifetime Achievement Award.

Another example is Gérard Bertrand, head of a group of wine estates in the Languedoc region of France. He is a public voice on climate change, speaking from his biodynamic platform, the method at work in each of his vineyards. Bertrand participates in the Good Planet Foundation and in the Objective 10,000 Trees agroforestry project. Balancing the ecosystem and reducing the organization’s carbon footprint are objectives inherent in all the wines produced by Bertrand and his team.

One of the biggest complaints within the wine industry today is the lack of informative labeling, especially for ingredients and processing. It can be difficult to tell if a wine matches its values ​​just by looking at the label, even when the producer strives to display as much useful information as possible. On the one hand, people want to pop and pour their wines with ease, but on the other hand, many wine lovers appreciate the opportunity to research and read about the wines they buy. The second camp, consumers who are willing to look beyond buzzwords, will benefit from asking what a brand means when it says sustainable. Often a quick internet search will reveal answers.

About Andrew Estofan

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