These differences have led to confusion and even skepticism in some quarters regarding sustainability claims by wineries and sustainability certification programs.
Consumers nowadays see a lot of certification schemes and generally are unable to distinguish one from another. Retailers, determined to provide environmentally responsible products, want assurance that these products, and the seals they display, meet acceptable levels, if not the highest level, of impact and authenticity. More than that, they want to display the certifications recognized by the end consumer.
Consumers in general don’t know how to navigate the various seals and certifications and retailers often don’t have the resources to provide this information or education. There is some understanding of organic certification, given consumer experience with organic foods. Only in a few instances have customer communications, education and marketing been included among the priorities of the regional sustainability programs. A brief overview of each program is available for Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa and The United States below.
Bodegas de Argentina, an association of Argentine wineries, launched its Wine and Viticulture Sustainability Protocol in November 2012, developed in partnership with the Catena Institute of Wine. Bodegas de Argentina is an association of 254 wineries, representing 90% of Argentine wine production. Laura Catena, founder of the Catena Institute of Wine, brought this idea to Bodegas de Argentina along with the idea of using the California CCSW as a model. Also Bodegas de Argentina was convinced that the natural environment of California is closest to theirs, so many practices can be compared. (Catena Zapata is a family-owned winery that has been producing wines for 110 years and Laura Catena, the fourth generation, is now leading the company with her father Nicolas Catena, patriarch of Catena Zapata.)
Catena had been working for years with sustainable practices, but they saw the need for all Argentine producers to have a protocol that gives directions about how to work in a more sustainable way. The process of developing the protocol was very inclusive from the start. Bodegas de Argentina had already established a special commission for sustainability issues (carbon footprint, water footprint, recycling, etc.). The protocol was evaluated by this commission for three years.
In 2015 the Sustainability Commission of Bodegas de Argentina added provisions and requirements to the sustainability protocol for certification. And in June 2015 Bodegas Esmeralda (Catena Zapata) received the certification becoming the first sustainable certified Argentine winery, after passing an audit by SGS Argentina.* Annual audits will be required to maintain the certification.
*SGS is the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company whose certification services demonstrate that products, processes, systems or services are compliant with national and international regulations and standards.
Entwine Australia is the Australian wine industry’s national sustainability program – set up to support growers and winemakers in demonstrating and improving the sustainability of their businesses. Entwine Australia was developed by the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia (WFA) in consultation with industry and with support from the Australian Government. It is a voluntary environmental assurance scheme that allows winemakers and wine grape growers to receive formal certification of sustainable environmental practices according to recognized standards. The Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) now manages it.
Entwine is as an ‘umbrella’ sustainability program. Under the Entwine umbrella there are two components for members – the reporting of sustainability metrics and participation in an approved certification program. Entwine provides credentials which cover the fundamental components of sustainability (environmental, social and economic) and can be applied to both the vineyard and winery. The program provides benchmarking tools and resources to enable planning, evaluation, control and communication. Companies must be independently audited and report annually against a set of defined resource use indicators. Wineries also must report their greenhouse gas emissions.
Entwine is a program designed with flexibility to suit the changing goals and needs of all Australian grape and wine producers and provides information for wine industry research, development and extension activities and can be used by members for benchmarking.
Members can choose which certification program best suits their business from:
- ISO 14001
- Freshcare Environmental Viticulture/Winery
- Freshcare Environmental Viticulture Code of Practice
- Freshcare Environmental Winery Code of Practice
- Sustainable Australia Winegrowing
Freshcare is the fresh produce industry’s own on-farm assurance program, fulfilling both domestic and international market requirements. It is a practical approach to help growers and packers assure customers that their produce is safe to eat and sustainably grown, and thousands of fresh produce businesses have adopted the Freshcare program since its launch in July 2000.Wine producers also have the choice to be certified instead under Sustainable Winegrowing Australia (SAW), which started as a regional program, the McLaren Vale Sustainable Winegrowing Australia (MVSWGA), and is now accessible to any grower across Australia. It has its origins in the early 2000s. What followed was the development of a series of viticulture initiatives with the objective to improve growing practices, fruit quality and financial viability in the region. These initiatives included seminars and workshops; a growers’ bulletin called CropWatch that provided information from nine weather monitoring stations and pest and disease alerts for the region; and research trials.
In 2008, the sponsors of the initiative decided they needed to measure results. And in 2009 the assessment workbook was provided to all growers in the region. Next step, 50 growers decided to self-assess, following three main principles: (1) assessment over time; (2) grower sustainability levels identified on a continuum and not on a pass/fail basis; (3) the assessment and reporting system must be useful for the grower to understand their sustainability status and be able to improve it.
Ten percent of program members are randomly selected annually and audited by a third party. Audits are in place to ensure credibility of the growers’ sustainability levels based on their responses. There are specific rules and penalties that, in extreme cases, can lead to a member’s exclusion in case of discrepancies between inspections and the self-assessment answers and data reporting. Audits are also available to members who wish to become certified. Certification audits are carried out every three years whereas self-assessment, random inspection process and data reporting through the online system are annual.
One of the pillars of the Chilean wine industry’s 2020 Strategic Plan is sustainability: to turn Chile into the largest producer of premium, diverse, and sustainable wines in the New World. The Consorcio I+D Vinos de Chile (R&D Consortium Wines of Chile), the technical arm of the wine industry, designed a comprehensive Sustainability Program – a set of initiatives for wineries to implement, realizing that sustainability represents the convergence of activity which is environmentally friendly, socially equitable, and economically viable. The Sustainability Code is the centerpiece of this project. It is voluntary in nature with requirements in three complementary areas: green (vineyard), red (winery) and orange (social). The Code sets standards for the entire value chain of wine making:
- Green Area – vineyard: Includes land owned by the company and land owned by long-term suppliers (contracts of two years or more).
- Red Area – wine making process: Includes the winery, bottling plant, and other facilities related to wine production.
- Orange Area – social: Applies to the company including its land, offices, and facilities.
Recognizing that the production of wine involves many steps beyond simply how the grapes are grown in the vineyards, the Chilean Code investigates business operations at all phases and in all locations of the company – vineyards, wineries, bottling plants and other facilities, and corporate offices. Many codes do not mention social responsibility or they make it a much smaller priority, while focusing primarily on environmental impacts of wine producing. The Chilean code goes much further in the area of social responsibility, including a commitment of responsibility to the consumer, ethical practices with suppliers, and a section addressing quality of work life and human rights. This tool could be the most comprehensive and complete of any of the codes evaluated here, based on the breadth of coverage and extent of value chain actors to be included.
In terms of influencing how wineries conduct their business, the code requires:
- planning, implementing, operating and maintaining a management system focused on a sustainable wine production,
- minimizing potential environmental impacts caused in the wine production chain,
- guiding working relationships inside the company within an ethical framework, and
- improving communication with their clients, suppliers, and interested parties in the wine production chain and with the communities surrounding their production units.
The Sustainability Code of Chile certifies the performance of the winery, not the wine itself. It aims to change the culture of the management – more so than a line of product.
The implementation of the code began in January 2011, starting with only the Green Area. In January 2012, 11 wineries were certified to the green area. Certification of all three areas as a whole was underway by January 2013. By the end of 2015, 57 wineries were certified; 57 wineries which represent 70% of Chile’s bottled wine exports.
The Code has identified the associated practices of each the three areas; standards and corresponding checklists have been developed for each sector, which include checkpoints and forms of verification for each requirement. Some of these checkpoints are considered critical and compliance is mandatory. Certification lasts for two years.
After obtaining the certification the wine company can apply for the seal “Certified Sustainable Wine of Chile” on bottles, in all advertising, on its websites, and posters of its vineyards and production facilities.
By fulfilling the Code’s requirements, the companies that enter the certification system can show their management capacity to reduce potential environmental and social risks caused by the activities involved in wine production. What is finally “certified” is the company’s management and not the end product.
Chile wants its code to assure customers that it is sustainable, but Vinos de Chile also wants to continue innovating in this area. Sustainability is a key aspect of how Chilean wines will be marketed.
There is no single national sustainability system for wine in France, but two programs bear mentioning – a sustainable agriculture system favored by a small group of wineries and a regional sustainability program in the Champagne region.
Haute Valeur Environnementale
The French Ministry of Agriculture developed the Haute Valeur Environnementale or HVE certification in 2001, a three-tiered system that encourages farms and vineyards to focus on increasing biodiversity, decreasing the negative environmental impact of their phyto-sanitary strategy (i.e. measures for the control of plant diseases, reducing the use of pesticides and fungicides), managing their fertilizer inputs, and improving water management. Once an operation has attained the third and most stringent level of the certification process, it is deemed worthy of the title “High Environmental Value” (“Haute Valeur Environnementale” or HVE). The authorities recently established an official label that producers with this status can display on their products and marketing materials.
HVE has strong support from the trade organization Vignerons Indépendants de France (Independent Winegrowers of France) a group of eco-conscious small-scale producers, about 25% of which are organic producers. They see a slowing in the number of new entrants to organic certification among wineries in France. HVE is less strict than organic requirements in terms of the elimination of chemical inputs in the vineyard, but it emphasizes other points, such as the promotion of biodiversity, which makes it much more aligned with sustainable agriculture systems that have concerns about vineyards being monocultures.
This voluntary approach involves three levels:
- Level 1 is a prerequisite for access to the process, obtained by carrying out a self-assessment by the farmer, validated by an accredited auditor. Action plans are created.
- Level 2 has 16 “best practices” around 4 themes: biodiversity, use of pesticides, fertilizers, water management. At this level a vineyard could receive the environmental certification label; it is validated by an external audit.
- Level 3 is the highest level and provides the certification HVE (high environmental value) for the entire farm operation. It includes performance requirements measured either by composite indicators, or by global indicators corresponding to the four themes. This level is also validated by an external audit after 3 years of operating at Level 2.
The logo may be affixed to finished products (including wine bottles), containing at least 95% of raw materials from farms with high environmental value (HVE).
Viticulture Durable en Champagne
In the early 2000s, The Champagne trade association, Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne, hereinafter The Champagne Bureau, sponsored an environmental footprint assessment of the viticulture and winemaking in the region. The result was a ‘Champagne Business Environmental Management Plan’ with four key action areas:
- The reduction of environmental risks to human health, particularly those arising from the use of agricultural inputs.
- The preservation and enhancement of terroir, biodiversity and landscapes.
- The accountable management of water, wastewater, by-products and waste.
- Confronting the energy/climate challenge.
Then in 2014, the Champagne Bureau launched its own “sustainable” winegrowing certification under the Viticulture Durable en Champagne (VDC) label, becoming the first French wine region to create its own sustainable label and certification requirements.
Champagne is quite concerned about the rise in the mean temperature by 1.8˚C (3° F) and predictions of continuing increases in the temperature going forward, which could have detrimental effect on the cultivation of cool-climate grapes and production of champagne as we know it.
Essentially the new VDC certification is very similar to the national HVE – in the sense that a company as a whole is certified. Like sustainable wine certification programs in “new world” wine countries, Champagne’s VDC includes sustainable practices in the vineyard as well as water and waste management.
Certification requires compliance both with 60 critical standards and 31 major standards. There remain 34 minor standards and at least 20 of those must be complied with as well. It takes 3 years to be certified and Champagne Houses are subject to audits every 18 months.
Just one year after this initiative was launched the system gained recognition through environmental certification from the French Agriculture, Food Processing and Forestry Ministry. As of midyear 2015, about 15 producers representing more than 2000 hectares – amounting to 6% of the land area – have Viticulture Durable en Champagne certification. This may seem like a small number but remember these types of programs are still new in France.
FAIR ‘N GREEN founded in November 2013, is a sustainability standard with a focus on economic, social and environmental implications of an agricultural operation. It was developed by Athenga GmbH, a German consulting firm that specializes in sustainability consulting. With their years of experience in multiple industries – consumer goods and logistics, for example – they see sustainability as an “interdisciplinary interconnection.”
Businesses that are operating under the EU Organic standards already qualify for a portion of FAIR’N GREEN certification. FAIR’N GREEN does not aim to compete directly with producers that are certified Organic, but rather, offers resources to expand on organic certification. However, FAIR’N GREEN is open to those that are not currently operating under the EU Organic standards, as well. Overall, the FAIR’N GREEN movement, as it is described by some of its members, aims to reduce the input of artificial substances into the environment and reduce the reliance on fossil fuels.
The central parts of the FAIR’N GREEN system are:
- Four key chapters: Environment, Society, Business Management and Value Chain
- 150 criteria: 50 percent of all points must be met upon entering the association, as well as a minimum of 40 percent in each of the four sustainability chapters.
- Annual improvement: The companies pledge to improve annually by 3 percent with regard to the previous year and document their measures.
- Sustainability Toolkit: There is concrete assistance and sustainability consulting for achieving the improvement.
- External audit: The QC&I – Quality Certification & Inspection service provides external monitoring and verification for the assessment.
Contents and Measures of FAIR’N GREEN:
- Preparation and analysis of a lifecycle assessment.
- Proposals for sustainable energy management.
- Calculation of a carbon footprint for the company.
- Measures for reducing carbon footprint.
- Focusing on social commitment and strengthening corporate social responsibility (CSR).
- Analysis of the supply chain with regard to sustainability issues.
- Hands-on assistance for establishing sustainable procurement.
- Promotion of employees’ commitment to sustainability.
There are specific requirements for certification.
By the end of 2015 30 vineyards were members.
For many years there have been over 15 programs with different approaches to sustainable development in the wine sector. Although there are differences in how they process indicators, they have worked to achieve the same objective. All these programs were designed with a holistic vision of sustainability – i.e. the triple bottom line, but their emphasis has been almost exclusively on environmental aspects and goals:
- GHG emissions – both direct (including from the use of energy) and indirect – related to the process and/or product
- Water Consumption; direct and indirect water pollution
- Biodiversity Maintenance and Protection of Biodiversity in the ecosystem
In 2016 a new entity and a stakeholder movement, EQUALITAS was launched in with the aim of uniting the Italian wine business into a homogenous and shared vision of sustainability. and is the is the result of a five year commitment by UIV to Tergeo. While most of the 15 separate initiatives make up the new entity, the controlling decision-making power rests with Unione Italiana Vini (UIV), the trade union for wine producers, and Federdoc (the national confederation that protects and promotes the Italian Appellations and Dominations of Origin –AOC, DOC ad DOCG).
Equalitas will promote good practices in the following areas:
- agricultural practices such as soil handling, irrigation, biodiversity, no weeding between rows, etc.
- manufacturing practices related to cellar and bottling, and packaging
- social practices, including workers rights, training, employee satisfaction surveys; and community surveys of neighbors every 3 years
- economic practices, such as economic incentives for achieving environmental and social improvements, and
- communication practices, including establishing rules to ensure true and transparent communications ; social responsibility and environmental reporting to all stakeholders and self-designation as a “Sustainable Company.”
Equalitas will certify companies (and groups of companies), wines and territories (i.e. regions). The certification is valid for 3 years. There are major ( M) requisites, which must be complied with 100% at the start of the certification validity; minor (m) requisites that demand 30% compliance with within the 3 years of the certification validity, and recommended (R) requisites that must be fulfilled at 10% compliance, also within the 3 years of the certification validity. There are also additional indicators for biodiversity, carbon footprint, water footprint that should be adopted within 3 years of certification validity.
In the early 1990s, the wine industry was undergoing rapid vineyard expansion and this growth was projected to continue for some time. Along with this expansion there was new pressure on land and water resources, accompanied with issues related to changing use of land. Leaders in the wine industry recognized that the natural resources of the country and the industry were of significant value and needed to be protected and, where possible, enhanced. It was felt that developing guidelines for sustainable viticulture would help establish and retain good practice, and would also provide a valuable education tool by which results from industry research could be transferred to producers.
Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand was established in 1995 as an industry initiative emanating from New Zealand Winegrowers. It was commercially introduced in 1997 and adopted by growers from the entire grape growing regions. Growers pursued support from their customers – wineries – and introduction of winery standards followed in 2002, a significant development, which further substantiated the industry commitment to sustainable production.
The growth of the industry – as well as its adoption of a more sustainable approach – was primarily driven by significant increases in exports particularly to the United Kingdom, which was showing a developing interest in purchase of goods with well-established environmental credentials. Industry leaders felt that taking a proactive approach toward sustainable production would meet this growing demand and assist individual companies enhance their marketing opportunities.
SWNZ defines sustainability as “delivering excellent wine to consumers in a way that enables the natural environment, the businesses and the communities involved, to thrive.” The policy states that wine must be made from 100% certified grapes in fully certified winemaking facilities and certification must be through an independently audited third-party program (SWNZ or one of the recognized organic or biodynamic certifications). The program aims to provide quality assurance, and also serves as a “best practice” model.
To become certified, prospects must first self-assess their operations and provide supporting documentation for their responses. Additionally, there is a requirement to supply data for water and input use (electricity, fuel, pesticide/fungicide spray).
The program is based on three pillars: monitor, measure, and manage. Currently, the measures that SWNZ focuses on are water, energy and agrochemical use. In fact several prominent wineries have made energy and reduction of GHG emissions a major priority, understandable given the distance they are from their most significant markets in the UK and the US.
The self-assessment consists of three sets of questions: major, minor and best practices: Majors are mandatory, minors are generally relevant practices and best practices are the next step up. Compliance with all major questions and 80% of minor questions are required to achieve certification. If 100% of major questions are not achieved, corrective actions are required to pass. A second on-site inspection may or may not be requested, depending on each situation.
Third-party auditors work closely with the program managers from the initial inspection in order to be certified and then again every three years to maintain certification. The independent auditors often serve as mentors to growers to help them meet the program’s requirements. Certification is issued by SWNZ based on inspection results. Certification is still voluntary, however since 2010, the New Zealand Winegrowers, the body responsible for promoting the brand New Zealand Wines, made vineyard and wine accreditation to the SWNZ (or one of the recognized organic or biodynamic certifications) a pre-requisite to participation in promotional events.
Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand (SWNZ) is an integral part of the future of New Zealand wine production. As such, the program aims to deliver the following benefits to its members:
- A framework for viticulture and winemaking practices that protect the environment while efficiently and economically producing premium wine grapes and wine.
- A program of continual improvement to ensure companies operate with a goal of improving their operational practices.
- A platform for technology transfers so that companies are kept up to date regarding any new technology and its application.
- An external audit structure that has integrity and rigor to comply with market expectations, leading to certification as fully sustainable.
- Opportunity to be a part of New Zealand Wine (NZW) industry goal of 100% of grape growers and winemakers operating under approved independently audited sustainability programs.
To meet the NZW policies on Sustainability and Vineyard Registration and to enter NZW events, promotions and awards, wines from 2010 vintage onward had to be recognized as produced by wineries and vineyards operating in accordance with a recognized independently audited sustainability program (or a combination of), the criteria for which are:
- 100% of grapes (vineyards) that go into the wine are certified.
- 100% of wine processing plant(s) where the wine is produced and bottled is certified.
- If the brand owner does not own ALL the vineyards or the plant in which the wine is processed and bottled, e.g. virtual wineries, it requires a separate membership in the form of a brand certification.
New Zealand succeeded in accomplishing over 95% certification by 2015 through SWNZ, organic or biodynamic certifications, a distinction among its peers from around the world.
Longtime leader in environmental, biodiversity and wildlife protection and energy efficiency, the wine industry in South Africa has three programs.
Two distinct programs – Integrated Production of Wine (IPW) and the Wine and Agriculture Ethical Trade Association (WIETA) – oversee sustainability in the South African wine industry with their focus on environmental practices and labor practices, respectively. A third program, the World Wildlife Fund has long partnered with many wine producers in a conservation partnership – the Biodiversity Wine Initiative (BWI) to protect biodiversity in the Cape Floral Kingdom (CFK), the richest and smallest plant kingdom on the planet, where 95 % of South Africa’s wine is grown. Participating wineries are designated “BWI champions” for adopting and biodiversity best practice.
South African wines are also certified as to origin by the Wine and Spirit Board, which also administers IPW.
Integrated Production of Wine (IPW) consists of a set of guidelines specifying good agricultural practices related to grape production (farm component), as well as guidelines specifying good manufacturing practices related to wine production (winery component) and packaging activities (bottling). Because wastewater is regarded as the most significant environmental risk at wineries and because water is a limited natural resource in South Africa, IPW also maintains separate additional guidelines for the management of wastewater and solid waste at wineries.
Compliance with the IPW guidelines is assessed on an annual basis through the completion of a self-evaluation questionnaire and is independently audited on a spot-check basis. In order for the winery to be certified, the following criteria must be complied with:
- Grapes must be produced according to IPW.
- No non-permitted residues may be present in the wine.
- Prescribed record keeping must be up to date.
- Cellar must have all required written permission/permits/licenses for solid waste and wastewater management.
Also grape samples are taken at randomly selected wineries during each harvest season and analyzed by an accredited laboratory for a long list of pesticides residue. Additionally The Wine and Spirit Board will certify a wine if all the requirements of the Scheme with regard to origin (i.e. Paarl), cultivar (i.e. Riesling) and vintage (i.e. 2012) have been met and the wine has also been evaluated by one of the tasting panels of the Board and it did not show any unacceptable quality characteristics. This is the only program that assesses wine according to its taste characteristics.
Social Practices and Labor are assessed by WIETA, a South African nonprofit association that promotes ethical trade in the wine industry value chain through training, technical assessment and audits to assess compliance with its code of good practice.
Despite this ethical program, Human Rights Watch exposed some deplorable practices in the South African grape and fruit-farming sector in 2011. Subsequently in May 2012, the South African wine industry, in cooperation with worker unions, announced a new fair labor initiative – the creation of an ethical seal under WIETA that will testify to reasonable working conditions, based on rigorous and closely monitored qualification criteria..
The new WIETA code of good practice is premised on international Labor Conventions and the base code of the Ethical Trading Initiative and also incorporates South African labor legislation. Importantly it precludes the use of child labor, prohibits forced labor. It asserts that employment should be freely chosen, employees should have a healthy and safe working environment and working hours shall not be excessive.
The fully traceable WIETA requirements are required at every stage of the supply chain and brand owners must identify all their suppliers and the whole supply chain from vineyard to bottle, i.e. not just the wineries but all the producers and suppliers, will be audited. This focus on social and labor practices is believed to be a world-first among wine-producing countries.
South Africa’s IPW program has had the reputation of being the most comprehensive and strictly managed of all the wine environmental codes in terms of audits and certification. This new WIETA seal will, industry leaders hope, match that reputation with an infrastructure to promote social sustainability. The long term vision for wine certification in South Africa is for the industry to have one seal, issued by the Wine and Spirit Board, that certifies the Wine of Origin information (vintage, date, variety), the environmental sustainability (IPW), bio-diversity protection and the ethical treatment of workers (WIETA).
There are separate and distinct sustainability programs in several wine regions of the US, including more than three in the state of California
The Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing is California’s first third party-certified sustainable winegrowing standards. It began with the creation of the Lodi Winegrape Commission in 1991, whose primary goal is to promote the Lodi wine region and market its wines. At the time Integrated Pest Management (IPM) was thought to be the most important issue for wine grape growers and so the Grassroots IPM program was launched in 1992. Integrated Pest Management is an economically and environmentally sound method for controlling pests. By using information about the lifecycle of the pest, farmers can manage pest damage by the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment.
Over the next few years other issues like ecosystem management and human resources were deemed priorities and the first edition of the self-assessment workbook was launched in 2000. The third-party certification system was added in 2005 and by 2008 10,000 vineyard acres were certified, 10 percent of the region’s wine grapes. The Lodi Rules has two key components. First, the Lodi Rules promotes wine grape grower adoption of 101 sustainability practices, which are termed “standards.”
The second key component of the Lodi Rules is the Pesticide Environmental Assessment System (PEAS). PEAS is a model used to quantify the total environmental and human impact of pesticides applied to Lodi Rules vineyards annually.
The Lodi Rules now takes a comprehensive approach to farming that goes beyond just pest management to promote practices that enhance biodiversity, water and air quality, soil health, and employee and community wellbeing.
Growers are audited annually by a third party to verify their farming practices, and may not exceed a maximum number of “pesticide” points calculated using PEAS. Certification is awarded to an individual vineyard annually. To warrant use of the Lodi Rules logo, at least 85 percent of the fruit must be from a certified sustainable source.
The Sustainability in Practice (SIP) Certification Program is administered by the Central Coast Vineyard Team (CCVT), a nonprofit dedicated to sustainable winegrowing since 1994. Like others it began as a self-assessment tool for wine-grape growers in the central coast region of California to evaluate their sustainable farming practices. After more than a decade, the CCVT decided to move toward third-party certification. CCVT does not grant certification. Instead, an independent advisory council – consisting of academic, regulatory, government and industry professionals – makes the determination based on the findings of the auditors.
Designed for and within the Central Coast region, the program is available throughout California. SIP Certification is a measurable and recordable set of farming practices, which encompass ten chapters, and considers the whole farm, verifying the commitment to environmental stewardship, equitable treatment of employees, and business sustainability. SIP Certified substantiates practices in place through third-party inspection, providing certification, not self-assessment, of sustainability. SIP prohibits the use of high-risk pesticides – differentiating it from some other sustainability certifications. SIP Certified allows the seal on the bottle of wine. To use the SIP logo on a bottle, a minimum of 85 percent of the grapes must come from sustainably certified fruit, as verified by a chain of custody audit.
The shift from self-evaluation to third-party certification began in 2003 when a group of dedicated growers and advisers began developing a set of standards, with measurable and verifiable requirements. The program was peer reviewed by over 30 environmental, regulatory, and academic representatives and piloted in 2008.
The SIP Standards evolved from over 15 years of work in sustainable farming and has undergone two extensive external peer reviews. Now in its seventh year, the Standards continue to evolve and incorporate comments by dozens of state, federal, social, environmental, agricultural, and university experts. SIP has a high threshold for eligibility. Rigorous guidelines cover a variety of farming issues and the minimum eligibility requirements are quite high, addressing everything from air quality, biodiversity, energy efficiency, and water quality and employee benefits.
Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CCSW- Certified)
As the state’s population exploded and urban areas encroached on traditionally rural farmland, the California wine community as a whole decided to take a proactive, precautionary approach to address increasing pressure resulting from public and legislative perceptions, environmental decisions from regulatory and governmental bodies, and other growth-related issues.
The winegrowing members of Wine Institute and the California Association of Wine Grape Growers (CAWG) decided to promote vineyard and winery practices sensitive to the environment, responsive to the needs and interests of society-at-large, and economically feasible to implement and maintain. Wine Institute is the largest advocacy and public policy association for California wine, and the only group representing the industry at the state, federal and international levels, representing more than 1,000 wineries and affiliated businesses throughout the state of California, responsible for 85 percent of the nation’s wine production. CAWG is a public policy advocacy group of wine grape growers, representing more than 60 percent of the total annual grape crush. Together in 2002 they developed the Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices workbook as the basis for the Sustainable Winegrowing Program (SWP), providing an educational tool for vintners and growers to assess their practices and learn how to improve their overall sustainability.
In 2003, the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA) was created to assist in program implementation. Based in San Francisco the CSWA is a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to promote the benefits of sustainable winegrowing practices, enlist industry commitment and assist in implementation of the SWP.
In January 2010, CSWA announced the next step in its sustainability evolution: third-party verification and certification. The program, known as Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CCSW- Certified), uses third-party auditors to verify winery and vineyard adoption and implementation of sustainable winegrowing practices.
The process-based certification includes, from ground to glass, a total of 227 criteria, 58 of which are prerequisites. The prerequisites were established to help achieve an appropriate balance between ensuring the integrity and rigor of the certification program, while enabling broad participation of the California wine industry. The rationale for the prerequisites includes legal requirements, significant stakeholder concern, environmental and social impact, economic feasibility and potential risk to the company.
CCSW-Certified requires that a vineyard or winery:
- conducts an annual self-assessment using the Code workbook of vineyard practices and winery practices,
- meets pre-requisite criteria for vineyard pre-requisites and winery,
- identifies priority areas and create action plans that are implemented and updated annually, and
- demonstrates continuous improvement.
The process for certification is to complete the self-assessment, indicating whether a vineyard or winery’s practices fall within Category 1 (the lowest level of sustainability), category 2, category 3 or category 4 (the highest level of sustainability). If category 1 is indicated then an action plan must be developed. If it is a certification pre-requisite, then they must move up to a 2 or higher. There is a specific timeline for advancement through the categories in order to gain and keep certification. Timely completion of action plans is necessary to meet the certification program expectation of continuous improvement and to satisfy the auditor so that certification will be recommended to the CSWA Certification Review Panel.
Certification isn’t the only goal of the California program. It has developed tools for wineries to use in assessing its environmental footprint and has offered performance measurements to help track water use, energy use, applied nitrogen use and GHG emissions. These projects funded by CSWA, and educational in nature, provide growers and vintners with tools to measure, manage and track their use of natural resources to optimize operations, decrease costs, and increase sustainability.
Napa Green and Fish Friendly Farming
The Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) also developed a third-party certification program under its Napa Green label, a voluntary program for Napa Valley landowners, in partnership with the Fish Friendly Farming program, which focuses on restoring fish and wildlife habitat and improving water quality in the Upper Napa River Habitat to protect the endangered Coho salmon and steelhead trout. The objectives of the program are to ensure compliance with all local, state and federal environmental regulations including the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, California Department of Fish and Game Code, and County Conservation Regulations.
New York: Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing
Long Island wineries are confronted by environmental challenges from many different directions. Their vines sit atop the island’s sole drinking-water aquifer. Soil erosion and chemical runoff can spread via creeks into the estuaries that support fish nurseries, migrating birds and oyster and clam beds. Where they don’t face a river, bay or ocean, the island’s North Fork and the Hamptons appellations bump up against the suburban sprawl of New York City.
In an attempt to protect that fragile ecosystem, and under pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a group of producers came together in 2012 to create a sustainability code specific to their circumstances and set an example. Inspired by sustainable wine certifications in West Coast states such as California and Oregon, the group wanted to create a local program – the first in an East Coast wine region – that reflected the best practices in use. Started by four wineries – Bedell Cellars, Channing Daughters, Martha Clara Vineyards and Shinn Estate – Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing (LISW) provides education and certification for Long Island vineyards.
Many Long Island winegrowers have been following the New York state-recognized program of best practices called VineBalance, developed in 2004 with Cornell Cooperative Extension, the New York Wine & Grape Foundation and New York Farm Viability. The foundation of the program is its grower self-assessment workbook – 134 questions in 8 sections covering the multitude of management decisions made by New York State grape growers, primarily an educational tool to bring awareness to the economic, environmental and social implications of specific viticulture practices. The self-assessment provides a baseline for potential modifications detailed in an action plan after completing the workbook. When it was created, Vine Balance did not involve audits or certification.
Among LISW’s big concerns are preventing pesticides and excess nitrate-nitrogen in fertilizers from leaching into the groundwater, then harming the health of the island’s estuaries and bays. For example, the program stresses that at least two-thirds of the vineyard must have permanent cover crops rather than bare soil – grasses, legumes and flowers help minimize erosion, improve soil health without chemicals and support beneficial insects that fight pests, among other things. The organization also stresses preserving local biodiversity.
One of the pioneers in developing a third-party sustainable certification program is the Oregon group LIVE or Low Input Viticulture and Enology, Inc. This refers to the production of winegrapes through integrated science-based, environmentally sensitive production practices. The outcome is a conservative use of raw materials (inputs such as pesticides, fertilizer, water, chemicals, fuel, etc.) applied in vineyard and winery production to only that which is needed to maintain the highest quality fruit.
A voluntary organization, LIVE was established in 1997 by a group of Oregon wine grape growers, in partnership with Oregon State University. In 1999 LIVE was incorporated and certified by the International Organization for the Biological and Integrated Control of Noxious Animals and Plants (IOBC) to certify individual farmers. That same year inspections were conducted by independent third-party contractors with integrated pest management expertise. In 2006, the program was expanded to include growers from Washington State.
LIVE stresses the triple bottom line approach, promoting environmental preservation and conservation of the vineyard and surrounding areas, a farm’s economic viability and support to its social, cultural and recreational aspects.
LIVE goes beyond most other sustainability certifications in that it takes a whole-farm and whole-winery approach to sustainability. The entire property, including non-grape crops, landscaping, building operations, labor practices, even packaging must be managed to LIVE standards.
LIVE is Northwest-based and recognizes that the Pacific Northwest is a unique biome with ecological conditions different from other wine regions, such as California, Virginia, and upstate New York. Therefore, wherever appropriate, LIVE’s standards are specific to the Northwest. There is a list of approved pesticides, specific to two vineyard locations based on climate: Region I refers to cool-weather maritime climate like Willamette Valley in Oregon, and region II refers to warm-weather continental viticulture climate like Walla Walla Valley, Washington.
Certification by an independent third party is only achieved after completion of two years of farming under LIVE standards. Certification must be renewed every three years but any member is subjected to random inspections at any time. Additionally, members certified or not, must submit their records every year.
Through its partnership with the Northwest’s Salmon-Safe project, LIVE is supporting the mission to transform land management practices so Pacific salmon can thrive in West Coast watersheds. This partnership was the first joint certification effort concluded by Salmon-Safe, which results in vineyards adopting Salmon-Safe standards as part of their LIVE certification.
The term sustainability is often used quite loosely, and it is a term that has been abused by wineries and marketers alike. Many producers in the wine industry are trying to figure out how to enhance quality and production of wines while being more cognizant of their impact on their immediate and global environments. For some, this means reducing the use of certain chemicals. For others, it means making daily operations greener by reducing the waste stream and using more renewable energy sources.
Until the 1920s, organic agriculture was the norm. Farmers used natural means to feed the soil and to control pests. This all changed after the two world wars when chemical weapons were developed. Many of these substances – DDT used against mosquitoes to control malaria, and TNT, a powerful nitrogen based explosive — were tested on insects, and when the war ended, they were turned with a vengeance against agricultural pests. TNT was reconstituted as a nitrogen fertilizer.
Thus, agriculture changed dramatically and, especially in the US when industrial agriculture came into being, producing great quantities of food at low prices. The trade-offs pose great risks to our ecological and social health — topsoil depletion, erosion, groundwater and soil contamination, depletion of water resources and deforestation.
In fact wine growing is a very industrialized process that is tough on environment and workers. Wine is a major global industry, subject to the same cost constraints, desired profit margins and investor expectations as other industries. These business realities affect decision making about integrating sustainability into manufacturing and business practices.
Several “green” practices are associated with wine: natural, organic, sustainable and biodynamic.
What we call natural wines are wines made with the least possible use of chemicals, additives and overly technological procedures. That includes chemicals in the field, such as pesticides, as well as things like sulfur or any of the many various chemicals, additives, cleansers, and fining agents used in conventional winemaking, that are legally permitted, to protect the wine from spoilage or premature browning or overcome a deficiency. These are not permitted in natural wines. And there are many technological manipulations of wine, employed in conventional wineries that would not be used to make a natural wine. However the result in natural wines can often be cloudy wine with lumps of natural yeast in the bottle, or untimely spoilage.
The uses of beneficial insects, cover crops, natural fertilizers, and the planting of companion crops (such as Echinacea to attract natural predators), are common. In addition, weed management is integrative, allowing a cycle of growth, mowing and composting wherein the biomass is used as fertilizer instead of traditional chemical fertilizer sprays.
In order for wines to carry the organic seal on their packaging, their ingredients must be approved by a government body – in the US it is the US Department of Agriculture and the EU provides approval of certification rules of European countries. There are important distinctions between these government requirements, but in each case it is ultimately a government body that determines what is labeled organic.
- the use of a complex system of herbal sprays and composting techniques, known as “preparations,” and
- the timing of the operations on the land, which is strictly regulated by the movements of the spheres of the universe (the planet and the moon).
Where organic farming focuses on refraining from adding certain things to the vine and the soil, one of the core principles of biodynamic farming is adding certain preparation elements to the soil, fertilizing with natural products according to a lunar cycle. These “preparations” are made from herbs — such as yarrow, chamomile, stinging nettle oak bark, dandelion and valerian flowers — mineral substances and animal manures, and are used in field sprays and compost applications that revitalize the soil with life and aid in photosynthesis.
Much ado is made about use of the two most iconic biodynamic preparations, which are made using cow’s horns. Utilizing a cow horn as a receptacle for cow dung, the horns are buried over the winter, and then excavated in the spring. The material that results smells of rich earth and looks like beautiful soil. By putting the horns underground in the winter, the constant temperature allows the dung to ferment, creating a welcoming environment for colonies of microbes to flourish. Once taken out of the horn, this fermented soil is placed in water that is vigorously stirred, and applied in homeopathic quantities to the soil.
Biodynamic wines worldwide are certified by one organization, Demeter, and the requirements are exactly the same in every country.
Sustainable wine production is a broader concept that includes practices for:
- energy and water conservation
- carbon emissions reduction
- waste management
- packaging and recycling
- fair compensation to workers
- worker health and well-being
- social responsibility to communities
Some of these sustainable certification initiatives are more rigorous than others.
“Beer is made by men, wine by God.”
– Martin Luther