by Cole Danehower / Photo © Richard Duval
One of the most important trends in today’s wine world is the growth of environmentally conscious wine production. As you might expect from a region so rich in natural wonders as the Northwest, our wine industry is a global leader in sustainability.
Growing and making wine can have negative impacts on the natural environment. Conventional farming uses chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and supplements; over time this can reduce soil fertility and biodiversity, leading to lower quality fruit and plant health. Winemaking can also be accomplished using a variety of “safe” chemical additives which over time can contribute to environmental degradation.
Sustainable wine production is fast growing in popularity. It is both a practical and a philosophical approach to growing and making wine that results in as few negative environmental impacts, and as many positive ones, as possible. The goal is to preserve the natural fertility and biodiversity of the land for future generations while contributing to the health and prosperity of the community through businesses that provide long-term, living wage jobs and economic stability.
But sustainability is not easy; it requires winegrowers to change conventional practices. Plus, sustainability comes in many guises, from simply good intentions to rigorous and thorough third party certification. For consumers concerned about eco-friendliness, the various approaches can be confusing. Here’s an overview to help you understand, and look for, Northwest sustainable wines.
Created in Oregon’s Willamette Valley in 1996, LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology) is one of the oldest, yet most cutting-edge sustainability certifying agencies in the wine world. Using rigorously applied, science-based principles, LIVE certifies both the vineyard and the winery for environmental, social and economic sustainability. Look for the LIVE logo on wines that have been made from LIVE-certified grapes and in a LIVE-certified winery.
There are different types of organic wines, and the designations can be confusing. For a wine to use the U.S. Department of Agriculture organic seal, the grapes must be certified as 100 percent organically grown and have no added sulfites (a naturally occurring preservation agent). This certification only applies to farming practices and does not consider the broader issues of sustainable wine production. On the West Coast, Oregon Tilth is the leading certifier of organic farms.
Developed in the 1920s by the German polymath Rudolf Steiner, biodynamics is best thought of as an über-organic form of farming that views the farm as an integral system within the context of the cosmos. Often derided for perceived mysticism, and despite a lack of scientific studies of its efficacy, a number of important Northwest wineries practice biodynamics, though they may not say so on their wine labels. Biodynamic wines can be certified through the Demeter Association, Inc., based in Oregon.
Other Programs Supporting Sustainable Wines
Salmon Safe certifies land management and conservation practices that preserve natural watersheds so that salmon populations can thrive; it partners with LIVE for vineyard certification.
In Washington’s Walla Walla Valley AVA, Vinea, The Winegrowers’ Sustainable Trust, encourages and manages sustainable vineyard and winery practices that earn certification through the International Organization for Biological Control.
The British Columbia Sustainable Winegrowing Program (BC SWP) is a new endeavor of the B.C. Wine Grape Council aimed at promoting sustainable practices in vineyards and wineries.
When you think about it, winegrowing at its root is an “unnatural” activity. After all, Vitis vinifera, the grape species that produces fine wine, does not grow naturally in the Northwest (or in North America, for that matter). It is only as a result of human intervention on the environment that we have wine in the Northwest. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t grow and make wine in the most environmentally friendly way possible.
So are sustainable wines better wines? Only your palate can answer that question. But they are demonstrably better for the planet, and that makes a lot of winegrowers and wine lovers feel better!
Sustainably-focused Northwest Wineries
(There are many more besides these.)
- Willamette Valley Vineyards
- Bethel Heights
- Adelsheim Vineyards
- Stoller Vineyards
- Bergström Winery
- Chateau Ste. Michelle
- Woodward Canyon
- Va Piano Vineyards
- Pepper Bridge Winery
- Cayuse Vineyards
- Bitner Vineyards
- 3 Horse Ranch
- Holesinsky Wines
- Colter’s Creek
- Tantalus Vineyards
- Summerhill Pyramid
- Mission Hill Family Estate
- Tinhorn Creek
- Le Vieux Pin