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Drink Green - A Guide to Eco-friendly Wines

People have been focusing on eating healthier foods for years. The farm to table movement is huge, as are Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs. So, wouldn't it make sense to apply similar techniques to winemaking? There is gaining momentum in the wine industry to do just that.

There are three classifications when it comes to eco-friendly wines: Sustainable, organic and Biodynamic. They are three entirely different things, and it is important to understand what they mean if environmental factors go into choosing a wine. With a better understanding of the terms, you will be able to make a more informed decision when purchasing a bottle of wine.    


Sustainable farming practices are based on farming techniques that are good for the environment and also make economic sense. This means that a farmer/grower will use organic farming practices, but will also use socially equitable business practices as well. While there is no formal certification for a wine to be called sustainable, there are two associations that winemakers can join to formally list themselves as a sustainable vineyard/winery. They are Sustainability in Practice (SIP) and Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CCSW).

Sustainability in Practice (SIP)

Being SIP certified shows a winery's dedication to the "3 P's" of sustainability - People, Planet and Prosperity. SIP takes the whole farm into consideration, with a few of the SIP sustainability efforts being: social responsibility, water conservation, safe pest management, energy efficiency, habitat, and improvement.SIP requirements are both practice and performance based, with each one being demonstrable and auditable. When buying a bottle of wine that is SIP certified, you are assured of the winery's commitment to sustainable practices and promoting a healthy environment.

Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CCSW)

CCSW is a certification process that provides verification by a third party auditor that a winery or vineyard implements sustainable practices and continuous improvement. The CCSW is based on the concept of a "Cycle of Continuous Improvement." Participants assess their operation using a comprehensive guide called the California Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Workbook; they then interpret their results with customized reports that benchmark their practices relative to statewide and regional averages. They attend educational seminars to learn about best practices, develop and implement action plans for change, reassess and then begin the cycle again. As of right now, the CCSW does not allow the use of a CCSW Certified logo or claim on a wine label. Their website has a list of certified wineries and vineyards. Sonoma County vineyard and winery owners are on a quest for 100% sustainability, and are generally obtaining certification through the Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing program.  


Wines labeled as certified organic must meet the strict guidelines of the USDA National Organic Program, as well as the regulations set by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. An organic wine is the only type of wine that carries legal certification, so if a wine is organic it will carry the USDA certified organic seal.

Wines labeled as "made with organic grapes" or "organically grown grapes" have to meet different requirements than a USDA certified organic wine. The wine must be produced from 100% organic grapes; however the yeast and any other agricultural ingredients do not have to be organic, but must be produced without USDA excluded methods. Sulfites may be added to wines bearing these two descriptors, but must not exceed 100 parts per million. Growers producing USDA Certified organic grapes must pass a certification inspection every year to maintain their certification.


Biodynamic wine practices can be the most intriguing of the three. Biodynamic refers to both the agricultural methods and the handling and processing of the fruit post harvest. Biodynamic farming is based on a series of lectures given in the 1920's by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. Where biodynamic differs from sustainable or organic farming practices is in the idea that farming can be attributed to the spiritual forces of the cosmos. This can mean things such as, sowing and harvesting based on the phases of the moon or alignment of the planets, or burying cow manure in a cow's horn over the winter, unearthing it in the spring, diluting a minute amount of the substance in 34 liters of water, "dynamizing" it by stirring it by hand in alternating directions for an hour or so and then spraying the mixture over one's vineyard. Wines produced employing Biodynamic farming are more evocative of the place they're grown—giving an even better sense of terroir.

There is a certification process for biodynamic farming called the Demeter Biodynamic Farm Standard. Once certified the terms Biodynamic, Demeter and Demeter Certified Biodynamic may be used on labels. There are two possible label options for Demeter certified wines. They are "Biodynamic wine" and "Made with Biodynamic grapes."

Biodynamic Wine

Biodynamic wine is a wine that is made from 100% Biodynamic grapes and is an undisguised, vintage-based expression of a vineyard. Only minimal manipulations are allowed. The wine has to be made in a Demeter certified winery and follow all Demeter processing guidelines.


Made with Biodynamic Grapes

This is a wine made with 100% Biodynamic grapes, however manipulation of the grapes is allowed as long as it follows the USDA National Organic Program's "made with organic grapes" guidelines (a few of which are mentioned above).

So, whether it is sustainable, organic or Biodynamic you can now be more confident in knowing how the wine you're purchasing was produced. 


About the Author: Matt Rice

Matt Rice

Matt Rice is Oliver's intrepid blogger on all topics related to wine, beer, cider, spirits, and other gourmet products.


Where "Local" Means Sonoma County

To us Local means Sonoma County -- period. Not Marin, not Napa, and definitely not the state of California, as some of our competitors define it.

From the day we opened our doors in 1988, we’ve built our business on the simple premise that the best food and wine in the world are produced here, in Sonoma County. We didn’t feel like we were pioneers at the time, but as people have come to understand and embrace the value of locally grown and made food and the value of shopping locally, we realize we were part of the early days of the movement.

As a Sonoma County business, we’ve built enduring relationships with local growers, makers, and manufacturers, because they make the foods and wines we love. Many of them were getting started when we were. Now they are nationally known, but for us, they are still old friends who often delivered products to our Cotati store in their cars back in the late 1980s.

Along with local products being excellent choices for taste and quality reasons, buying locally also improves our local economy. The dollars you spend at local retailers buying local products support other local businesses and our tax base, too!

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