A few weeks ago, I attended the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento. One of the seminars I attended dealt with sustainability, a topic that seems to be popping up with increasing frequency in the wine industry.
Sustainability is an interesting concept, primarily because it lacks any single definition or set of criteria. And, when it comes to certifying your wine as “sustainable” there are several programs to choose from. Wineries need to do their research to uncover the criteria for each certification program, and evaluate which program best fits their current practices and goals for sustainability.
One of California’s main sustainability programs is the California Sustainable Winegrowing Program. It advances and provides resources for practices that are “environmentally sound, socially equitable, and economically viable.” Its certification program – Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CCSW Certified) – provides third-party verification of a winery’s implementation and ongoing improvement of nearly 200 sustainability practices/criteria drawn from a publication called the “California Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Workbook,” which is available for free to California vintners and winegrowers here. According to its literature and website, CCSW emphasizes conservation of water and energy, soil health, protection of air and water quality, employee/community relations, and the preservation of local ecosystems and wildlife habitat.
Another third-party certified sustainable winegrowing program is Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing Certified Green. According to its website, the Lodi Rules take “a comprehensive approach to farming that goes beyond just pest management to promote practices that enhance biodiversity, water and air quality, soil health, and employee and community well-being.” A fact sheet can be found here, which summarizes the Lodi Rules’ standards for Certified Green. The program does not restrict its certification to wines from the Lodi Appellation; in 2012 about 1/5 of its certified acreage was outside the Lodi region.
Napa County vintners and winegrowers have their own local certification program: Napa Green. Napa Green describes itself as the wine industry’s “most comprehensive ‘best practices’ program for land use and wine production.” Two certifications are available: Napa Green Certified Land, and Napa Green Certified Winery. The Land Certification seeks to protect and preserve the Napa watershed, and involves creating a plan unique to each landowner’s property that emphasizes wildlife habitat, protection of riparian environments, and sustainable agricultural practices. The Winery Certification emphasizes the conservation of water and energy, prevention of pollution, and reduction of waste.
Yet another statewide program out is Sustainability in Practice, or SIP Certified. This program focuses on habitat and water conservation, energy efficiency, pest management, economic stability, and human resources. According to its website, SIP Certified wines reflect the implementation of sustainability practices that are broader and more comprehensive than even USDA Organic standards. A link to SIP Certified frequently asked questions can be found here.
All of these programs are based on the fundamental premise that ultimately, sustainable practices are not only good for the environment, but good for business as well. After all, the wine industry is heavily dependent upon both natural and human resources, so it only makes sense that business practices emphasizing the protection and health of those resources will ultimately contribute to the industry’s continued vitality and growth.
Room for improvement may lie in the specificity of information available to the consumer about sustainability certification. Certainly consumers find value in knowing which wines are “certified” sustainable, but at present they have no easy way to differentiate between the various certifications they may find on the labels. Do they want that information? Or is it enough to simply know the product has been through some form of certification process? I suppose time and the market will tell. Meanwhile, wineries interested in letting their consumers know more specifics always have the option of describing their sustainability practices where the consumer can’t miss them: right on the label itself. Of course, don’t forget to check the regulations governing labeling before you do – particularly those prohibiting any statements that could be considered misleading. That’s a topic for another day.