There are separate and distinct sustainability programs in several wine regions of the US, including more than three in the state of California

Lodi Rules

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.

SIP Program                                                  

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.

Oregon LIVE                                                             

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.