The sustainable practices of wineries are an important aspect of the wine industry in Oregon. We recognize that there are a variety of practices out there and can help answer your questions about the programs. Just as we have set out to be a sustainable wine tour guide, we look to the wineries in the area to produce wines in a manner that supports that goal.
In the not-so-distant past, wine connoisseurs tended to eschew the idea of organic wines. They were seen as strange, made by oddballs more concerned with being friendly to the earth than producing a palate-pleasing product. Recently, oenophiles are more concerned with the environment and choose more environmentally sustainable vintages. While vintners are increasingly producing more environmentally-friendly wines, for consumers the variety of programs can be confusing and leave the question of which certification is best in terms of ecological sustainability and quality.
Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine
The Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine Program was developed to provide those purchasing wine with a clear and simple way of knowing that a bottle of wine was produced using environmentally sustainable winemaking and agricultural practices and that both of these processes are certified by an independent third party. Bottles of wine certified by OCSW are marked with an easy to identify seal. In order for OCSW to certify a bottle of wine and receive the seal, it must meet certain agricultural and winemaking requirements. The agricultural requirements are fulfilled by being certified Salmon Safe and at least 97% of the fruit has been certified by LIVE, USDA Organic, Demeter Biodynamic, or Food Alliance. Additionally, LIVE, USDA Organic, Demeter Biodynamic, or Food Alliance must certify the wine processor or facility.
The goal of the Salmon Safe certification is to reduce the impact of agriculture on stream ecosystem health. Over 190 animal and plant species depend on salmon. In order for salmon to survive, they require a healthy habitat, including abundant high quality water and food. Salmon Safe’s sustainability mission is to transform agricultural practices so that Pacific salmon can thrive.
Low Impact Viticulture and Enology, Inc., or LIVE, provides third party certification by utilizing international criterion for sustainable winemaking practices. LIVE uses a point-based system with specifications limiting the amount of materials such as fuel, water, pesticides, and synthetic fertilizers. To receive certification, participants must meet the standards set forth by LIVE for a period of two years. Third-party monitoring is required during this time.
Organic wines are grown and produced without the use of chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilizer, bioengineering, ionizing radiation, or sulfites. To be labeled organic, the United States Department of Agriculture, or USDA must independently certify both the winery and the vineyard. USDA Organic certification is a three year process in which the producer must perform Organic methods research, follow USDA Organic guidelines, and keep detailed records of its progress. After certification, producers must submit to annual inspections to make sure they remain in compliance with USDA regulations. The USDA recognizes three levels of Organic labeling. In products labeled “100% Organic”, all of the ingredients used to produce it must be certified Organic. An “Organic” label signifies that 95% or more of the ingredients are certified Organic. The label “Made with Organic Ingredients” can be used if 70% of the ingredients are certified Organic, with strict guidelines placed on the remaining 30%.
The third program of sustainable viticulture is Biodynamic farming, which is certified by Demeter Biodynamic. Biodynamic agriculture sees the farm as a self-sustaining organism that produces completely from within the farm with no unnatural or exterior additions. Biodynamic vineyards are 100% free of chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. Vineyards certified by Demeter Biodynamic utilize specific biodynamic preparations that are applied to the soil, are required to use cover crops, and 10% of the total acreage must be set aside for biodiversity. Biodynamic vineyards must be inspected annually. The entire farm must be certified, rather than specific crops. To keep their certification, Biodynamic vineyards must be inspected annually.
There are also two other smaller certification programs in the state of Oregon, in addition to the Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine Program, the Carbon Neutral Challenge and Cork ReHarvest.
The Carbon Neutral Challenge for Wineries, is a program that was started in 2007 by the Oregon Environmental Council and the Oregon Wine Board. Twenty percent of the wine produced is represented by Oregon’s wineries and vineyards participating in this program, which aims to reduce the impact they have on the environment by becoming carbon neutral. It is a three part process by which wine producers measure, track, and reduce their greenhouse emissions. The first step is to determine the winery’s carbon footprint by measuring its greenhouse gas emissions. Next, a plan is executed to reduce the winery’s carbon emissions. Lastly, carbon offsets are purchased for any portion of the emissions that cannot be reduced.
The Cork ReHarvest Program was founded to collect and recycle some of the natural corks that are made each year. It also teaches the public about the need to preserve and protect the biologically diverse Mediterranean cork forests. Cork ReHarvest sponsors the “Real Cork Inside” program which lets consumers know if the wine they are choosing is sealed with natural cork.
Today’s wine consumers tend to be strong supporters of sustainable farming practices and the environmental movement in general. With a little information about the different types of certification, you are able to choose a vintage that not only tastes great, but is great for the earth as well. As you plan your next tour, we are happy to take you to wineries that participate in some of the different programs, and you can see the results for yourself.