ST. HELENA, CA – Tres Sabores Winery owner and winemaker Julie Johnson walks her pet sheep through … [+]
When it comes to wine, of these four terms—natural, organic, biodynamic and sustainability—“natural” is but a hair up from meaningless. What sets the three others apart from so-called natural growing and winemaking is that they are certifiable. To produce wine organically or biodynamically (arguably, organic with a dose of mysticism) is to think of the health of your vineyard, your wine and the consumer. Sustainability is a broad and global comprehensive concept that extends its reach beyond vineyard, wine and consumer—right into the future.
In a report to the United Nations, the World Commission on Environment and Development defined sustainable development as “…meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” According to Joe Browde, a sustainable wine industry auditor in the U.S., “Certified sustainable constitutes a peer-driven, scientifically sound approach for integrating sustainable practices and technologies into standards that enable growers and vintners to meet societal and marketing expectations.”
Browde’s comment is quoted on the non-profit California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA) website.
To be certified sustainable a business must apply multiple activities within a set of international and measurable standards. CSWA defines its sustainability certification this way: “Through annual third-party audits, CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE provides independent verification of stringent requirements that ensure key sustainability areas such as soil health, water and energy, habitat, human resources and more are addressed. Certified vineyards and wineries must also measure resources and performance and improve year after year.”
CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE has been a CSWA third-party certification program since 2010. Certification audits look to international business standards and practices including social responsibility (Fair Trade), environmental concerns (biodiversity, water, waste disposal) and social benefits to employees (medical care, sanitary facilities at work, etc.). In other words, the sustainable concept embraces organic and biodynamic methods, low environmental impact production and packaging, and even how employees are treated.
CSWA’s overarching goal has been to bring California grape growers and wineries into 100% compliance in each of their listed sustainable activities. They aren’t there yet, but the organization’s Third Annual Certified Sustainable Annual Report shows the impressive progress that has been made.
In 2019 CSWA certification increased by 50% in the number of vineyards and 4.2% in the number of wineries. As of the end of December, almost 2100 vineyards representing 29% of California’s vineyard acreage and 149 wineries producing 85% of the state’s 255 million cases had been certified. A separate 15% of California vineyard acreage had been certified in other programs like Lodi Rules, Napa Green and Sustainability in Practice (SIP).
According to CSWA rules, before slapping a CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE sticker on a wine package a business must complete an annual self-assessment of its vineyard and winery best practices in accordance with the California Code of Sustainable. Winegrowing, The rules include things like 85% or more of grapes for a sustainable wine must be from certified vineyards (including Lodi Rules and SIP) and the grapes must be 100% grown in California. The business seeking certification must allow a verification audit of the self-assessment. Further, to maintain certification, the audited assessment score a business receives for the first time must inch up over succeeding years—toward CWSA’s goal of 100% compliance.
Allison Jordan, executive director of CSWA puts it this way: “The California wine community has shown that sustainable practices and certification can be scaled up and is applicable to vineyards and wineries of all sizes throughout the state. As the fourth largest wine producer in the world, this means significant benefits for the land, natural resources and communities—both now and for future generations.”
For a list of CSWA certified wineries click here.