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Consumers are increasingly conscious of the choices they make and the products they choose. But there’s an overall lack of familiarity with what sustainability in wine actually means or looks like.
The governing concepts behind organic and biodynamic approaches to winemaking are easily relatable for wine lovers; the fact that organic farming means working without the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals, for starters, is easy to appreciate. The same goes for biodynamic wines, which extends its reach so that grape growers and winemakers take a holistic approach to care for the ecosystem in which the grapes are grown. The health of the soil and the plants are the motivation, not just the quality of the grapes being turned into wine.
Sustainability is harder to define. There’s a tremendous amount of variability based on the needs and conditions at each individual winery, depending on its size, scope or location. The attempts all stem from curbing waste in the winemaking process.
A study conducted on behalf of Ontario wineries in 2016 suggests a majority of consumers believed sustainable wine benefited the environment, the local wine industry and work conditions. That’s the good news.
To be clear, sustainable certification programs take into account the wine producing system as a whole, assessing the economic, environmental and social aspects, and not just the resulting product. The accreditation makes it clear to consumers that a checklist of sustainable practices have become engrained into day-to-day operations to reduce the winery’s overall impact on the environment.
Wineries who have integrated sustainable practices into their daily operations to receive an official certification for their commitments are audited on such factors as water and wastewater management, waste management and energy management systems. Support for social responsibility and overall economic feasibility are important aspects as well. Most of these certifications are governed by a third-party inspector to underscore the authenticity of the designation.
At this point, most winemaking regions have strongly regulated initiatives in place. California has long been a global leader with myriad layers of sustainable winegrowing campaigns working for regional appellations and statewide. Argentina, Australia, Chile, South Africa and New Zealand have been strong advocates for their sustainable approaches to winemaking, making it mandatory for producers looking to export or gain access to certain sales channels.
Closer to home, participating wineries in the Sustainable Winemaking Ontario Certified program broadcast their certification with a green leaf logo on their label, while third-party audits to convey Sustainable Winegrowing B.C. certification status is set to begin in November.
As important as the idea of sustainable wine is, the certified component that verifies compliance is crucial for transparency. Wineries need to be specific about how they operate so consumers know they embrace smart environmental practices as part of their efforts to make great wine.