Your Guide to Buying Sustainable Wine
What Makes Wine Sustainable?
What exactly is "sustainable" wine? It's not one thing; literally hundreds of different qualifiers can be applied by several different independent evaluators. What these certifiers all have in common is that they look at the overall way in which a wine is produced, from farming to processing and packaging, taking into account energy consumption, land use, waste management, water conservation, and pesticides, to name a few areas. Winemakers that meet the criteria get to put “sustainable” labels on their bottles.
Unpacking the Common Sustainable Certifications
If you've ever shopped for sustainable wine, you may have come across a number of different labels that all claim some form of sustainability; no one organization certifies all sustainable wine. Let's break down the big ones:
- Organic. To be labeled "Certified Organic" wines have to meet the requirements of, and be approved by, both the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau and the United States Department of Agriculture. Vineyards that receive this certification meet rigorous standards including no pesticides, no herbicides, no added sulfites, and no other prohibited substances. The USDA also gives a "Made With Organic Grapes'' certification, which is close to “Certified Organic” but with a few allowances such as the use of non-organic yeast.
- CCSW Certification. One of the most common labels you'll see is the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance's “Certified Sustainable” seal of approval. Established in 2010, the CCSW label considers about 200 different sustainable practices. This "grape to glass" approach evaluates a vineyard's soil, pest control, and ecosystem management, as well as air quality, energy efficiency, sourcing of purchases, and much more. Over 2,000 vineyards are CCSW certified, with millions of bottles bearing the label each year.
- SIP Certified. The Sustainability in Practice (SIP) certification began in California vineyards over a decade ago and has since spread to Michigan. SIP has about 50 requirements, focusing on labor, energy, water, air quality, chemical use, packaging, and more.
- Demeter Certified Biodynamic. While not the biggest player in the United States, the Demeter Certified Biodynamic certification is found in more than 50 other countries. It's the world's first ecological organic food label, established in 1928. Demeter certification has strict agricultural requirements, with an emphasis on conservation, biodiversity, and sustainable fertilization.
- Lodi Rules. Named for a town at the heart of one of California's largest grape-growing regions, Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing has about 100 different requirements, with many of those focused on pesticides, water use, soil management, and worker rights. Vineyards, which are mostly in California, need to pass an annual audit for certification.
- LIVE Certified. Hailing from the wine regions of the Pacific Northwest, Low Input Viticulture and Enology (LIVE) certification has strict biodiversity requirements, respecting the native habitats of wildlife and preserving healthy watersheds. Qualifying vineyards show low carbon footprints with their greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, and waste. LIVE also encompasses social issues such as safety and health standards for workers.
Where Can You Get Sustainable Wine?
Supermarkets are increasingly stocking sustainable wines. Albertsons recently added a line of sustainable wines. A long-time purveyor of organic wines, Trader Joe's stocks some sustainable wines such as a chardonnay from California's Raeburn Winery. Most of the major supermarket chains that have extensive wine offerings will have some sustainable bottles in the mix.
But you'll find the widest selection going with the top online retailers.
- Wine.com offers sustainable vintages from wineries including Chile's Cono Sur and Parducci in Mendocino, California.
- The subscription club, Winc.com, has sustainable wines with their brand The Wonderful Wine Company, along with selections such as a Syrah-Grenache blend from France's Point de Passage and a California Zinfandel.
- TotalWine.com has a good selection of sustainable vintages from California and across Europe.
- DryFarmWines.com goes global with sustainable wines sourced from small, independent wineries in Europe, South America, and South Africa.
- The Cellars Wine Club has sustainable offerings as part of its Natural Wine Club membership package.
- With liquor, beer, and a staggering number of wines for sale, Drizly.com will make you sift through a bunch of bottles. But that search will yield sustainable wine selections.
- ThriveMarket.com has quite a few sustainable offerings under its Clean Wine banner.
We’re seeing sustainable products such as eco-friendly wine more and more each day. So maybe the next cork you pop will not only please your palate, but it will also show some care for the planet.
Written by William McCleary for Knockaround.