Recently, I held an “Earth Friendly Wine Tasting” at my house. My goal was to explore only wines produced in a sustainable manner. As I dove into the research, I found that there are many approaches to sustainable wine production, and many of those overlap.
The U.S. government, the EU, and many other countries regulate the use of the term “organic,” (all differently, of course) but most other terms have no legal definitions and may or may not be associated with private certifications. Here are the major sustainable wine-making processes:
- Sustainable wine making is a general term referring to both natural and human resources, involving environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity. It requires small, realistic, and measurable steps as defined in the Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices Workbook published by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. Many sustainable farmers will grow organically or biodynamically, but it’s not required. They will also tend to focus on energy and water conservation.
- Natural winemaking is a style of winemaking that can be applied to any wine. It is loosely defined as using native yeasts in the fermentation process and minimal or no sulfur dioxide in the winemaking process. It would not be as strict as organic and may or may not involve the use of organic or biodynamic grapes.
- LIVE is an acronym meaning Low Input Viticulture and Enology. This name refers to the practice of reducing the amount of raw materials (inputs such as pesticides, fertilizer, water, chemicals, fuel, etc.) used in vineyard and winery production. It requires wineries to follow specific practices in their ongoing operations.
- Organic: There are two types of organic listings on wine bottles. Wines can be made from certified organically grown grapes, avoiding any synthetic additives, or, “organic” wines are made from organically grown grapes, and are also made without any added sulfites.
- Biodynamic winemaking stems from the ideas of Rudolf Steiner in 1924. The principles and practices of biodynamics are based on his spiritual/practical philosophy, called anthroposophy, which includes understanding the ecological, the energetic, and the spiritual in nature. For a vineyard to be considered biodynamic the wine-grower must use the nine biodynamic preparations described by Steiner.
That is what I learned about the most common approaches to sustainable wine production. The most undefined one is, of course, “natural”. To help with describing that in much more detail, here is a good article from Vino in Love in which the author has described natural wine production and furthermore takes the reader on one experience trying natural wines. It’s a fun read and makes me want to explore more.