Organic / Biodynamic / Sustainable Wines

Many of the wineries Siema represents are recognizing their ecological footprint on our earth and are turning “green,” while at the same time, more and more clients are seeking out environmentally friendly wines. The most common ecological specialty practices in winemaking today are:

  • Organic farming
  • Biodynamic farming
  • Sustainability
  • Solar power
  • Wind power

Organic/Biodynamic Agriculture

Organic wine estates most commonly use the legal organic statement on their labels, “Made from Organic Grapes.”  The less commonly used statement “Organic” is tightly controlled by the USDA and in order to obtain this high level of organic certification the wine must be without any trace sulfites.  Since sulfites are naturally occurring in grape cultivation,  trace sulfites in organic wines that bear the certification “Made from Organic Grapes” is allowed. Because of this, for the most part, due to the difficulty in growing grapes and shipping wine completely devoid of sulfites, wines are considered organic by most people when bearing this latter statement.   European wineries, like domestic US wineries, must be certified by the organic certification organization that operates in its country, and all European organic wine estates must conform to the identical practices mandated by the United States on domestic wineries.  The lack of the official legal certification does not necessarily indicate, however, that a winery is not practicing organic farming.  Many wineries practice organic farming without obtaining the organic certification or while they are waiting for the certification.  The actual legal certification is expensive and time consuming– a minimum of three years with constant supervision by the certifying body.  The practice of biodynamic farming is not yet certifiable.

The wine estates which are certified organic and/or biodynamic are:

Sustainable Agriculture

The University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Agriculture Program (SRAP) describes the practice of sustainable farming as integrating three main goals–environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity.

Stewardship of Natural and Human Resources “Stewardship of both natural and human resources. Sustainability rests on the principle that we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (SRAP)* The grapes from the estates practicing sustainable farming are hand harvested by local farmers and farm hands.  No machines are used in the harvesting. Grapevines are pruned by hand.

Systems Perspective A systems perspective is essential to understanding sustainability. A systems approach also implies interdisciplinary efforts in research and education. This requires not only the input of researchers from various disciplines, but also farmers, farm workers, consumers, policymakers and others. (SRAP) The estates practicing sustainable agriculture makes wine based on what is best for the soil, the plant, and the end product.  From the farmer who tends to the vines on a daily basis to the enologist, this is a communal decision done throughout the growing season and at harvest.

Water. When the production of food and fiber degrades the natural resource base, the ability of future generations to produce and flourish decreases. (SRAP) The DOC in all regions for the following wineries listed forbids irrigation of the grapes after they reach two years of growth. These estates depend only on natural elements (rain, snow, fog) to provide water to the vines.

Wildlife. Another way in which agriculture affects water resources is through the destruction of riparian habitats within watersheds. The plant diversity in and around both riparian and agricultural areas should be maintained in order to support a diversity of wildlife. This diversity will enhance natural ecosystems and could aid in agricultural pest management. (SRAP) The estates practicing sustainable agriculture do not use artificial means for irrigation, maintains ground cover by disc-ing the weeds between the rows (no chemicals) and are committed to maintaining the old vines when possible, therefore plant diversity and wildlife is maintained.

Energy. Modern agriculture is heavily dependent on non-renewable energy sources, especially petroleum. The continued use of these energy sources cannot be sustained indefinitely, yet to abruptly abandon our reliance on them would be economically catastrophic. However, a sudden cutoff in energy supply would be equally disruptive. In sustainable agricultural systems, there is reduced reliance on non-renewable energy sources and a substitution of renewable sources or labor to the extent that is economically feasible. (SRAP) Due to the sizes of these estates, and the placement of vines on the land, vine tending and harvest is done by hand; the only machine used is the tractor at harvest time to haul the grapes back to the winery for the winemaking.  While machines are used in some parts of the production—bottling, for example, a large portion of the production is still done using traditional methods and therefore are inherently conforming to sustainable practice. In addition, the wineries, required to follow European Union law governing renewable energy sources, use solar or wind power as a portion of its energy source.

Efficient use of inputs. Many inputs and practices used by conventional farmers are also used in sustainable agriculture. Sustainable farmers, however, maximize reliance on natural, renewable, and on-farm inputs.

Air and Soil Many agricultural activities affect air quality and soil maintenance. These include smoke from agricultural burning; dust from tillage, traffic and harvest; pesticide drift from spraying; and nitrous oxide emissions from the use of nitrogen fertilizer. (SRAP) The following estates improve air quality by incorporating crop residue into the soil. For example, grape bunches are not discarded during green harvest, but are worked back into the soil under the grapevine. Appropriate levels of tillage are used, and windbreaks are created by the grape vines and support system (all established by hand), and by maintaining strips of native perennial grasses to reduce dust.

Wine Estates Following Sustainable Agriculture Practices

United States

Italy

France

Switzerland

Austria

Spain

* From the University of California SRAP Program

Wind/Solar Power

Many wine estates are turning to alternate energy sources for power within their farms and facilities.  Some are doing this due to philosophical reasons and some are compelled due to European Union regulations.  A certain degree of renovation/remodeling  in wineries within the European Union triggers an automatic mandate for a moderate percentage of wind or solar power.  The following wineries obtain power from wind or solar sources:

Italy

Spain