Wine is a wonderful part of life. But wine can be bad for the environment, vineyards can have a detrimental effect on the local ecology, and, well…is wine even organic? Let’s look at how wine can be made sustainably, what the best sustainable wine brands are, and how the wine industry is doing in the age of global farming crises.
- Eco-friendly Wine
- What is Sustainable Wine?
- Third-party Certifications for Sustainable Wine
- Best Sustainable Wines & Ethical Wine Brands
- 1 // Benziger Family Winery
- 2 // Bonterra
- 3 // Brooks
- 4 // Clos Lentiscus | Spain
- 5 // Fetzer
- 6 // L’Auratae | Italy
- 7 // Proud Pour
- 8 // Silver Oak
- 9 // Tablas Creek
- 10 // The Wonderful Wine Co.
- 11 // Catherine & Pierre Breton
- 12 // Cono Sur
- 13 // Domaine Ostertag
- 14 // Dutton Estate
- 15 // Ferrari-Carano
- 16 // HŌM Biodynamic Wines
- 17 // Meinklang
- 18 // Mother’s Choice
- 19 // St. Supéry
- 20 // TerrAmore
- 21 // Winderlea
- Sustainable Wine Packaging
- Buy Locally Made Wines
- Switching to Sustainable Wines
The wine industry has a better sustainability standing than other industries, but it still has a significant impact on ecosystems and the environment. As a farming practice (viniculture), vineyards impact biodiversity, as well as air, water and soil quality.
Carbon Footprint of the Wine Industry
Wine fermentation releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, albeit not a huge amount, and so does the rest of its operations and manufacturing process. According to California’s Sustainable Winegrowing Program (SWP), vineyard activities contribute about 40% to the carbon footprint of wine.
How can vineyards be more sustainable? By following regenerative agriculture practices, along with other healthy farming methods such as using cover crops, renewable energy, and leveraging various methods to minimize their impact on the environment. See the section on biodynamic wine below.
Finally, as a consumable good, wine storage, packaging and distribution contributes a huge amount to its carbon footprint. The wine bottle alone, plus its transportation, make up about 40% to 50% to the wine industry’s carbon footprint. Glass bottles weigh a lot, and the result is seen in the transportation requirements. The average bottle of wine releases 1.28kg of carbon into the atmosphere over its lifetime. Also, wine bottles are challenging to recycle. There are more and more boxed and canned wine options available, but glass is by far the most preferred method of storage and consumption. Unfortunately, most of the packaging – bottle, cork, label, etc – ends up in the landfill.
Fortunately, many winemakers are increasingly incorporating concepts and practices of the circular economy. Apart from working with the land, and creating a healthy environment for the vines as well as for animals, birds, insects, and other wildlife.
Effect of Erratic Weather on the Wine Industry
In 2020, the California wildfires affected vineyards across Napa Valley. From Australia and Argentina to Italy and Greece, heatwaves and unseasonal rains have wreaked havoc on vineyards in the last few years. In 2021, France saw its smallest grape harvest since 1957, costing the industry $2 billion in wine sales.
As the conditions change due to the climate crisis, many wine-growing regions around the world are at risk. Higher temperatures, drier conditions, longer warm seasons lead to wildfires. Wildfires don’t just burn vineyards; the smoke also ruin grapes up to 100 miles away, rendering the wine made from them undrinkable. Winemakers are responding by diversifying into different varieties of grapes, while also cleaning up their processes to become more environmentally-friendly. This is a long and complicated journey towards sustainability, but for the time being, we, as consumers, can help the situation by buying wine from sustainable wine brands.
What is Sustainable Wine?
The term ‘sustainable wines’ is pretty catch-all. Sustainable wines are wines that have been made in a system that is sustainable – meaning, the maker uses sustainable methods of growing, production, packaging and distribution. Obviously, this is quite vague. Sometimes the maker will state that the wine is made without the use of toxic chemicals. So, is sustainable wine the same as organic? Again, not necessarily.
For example, wine made with organic grapes is distinct from organic wine (what?). The first refers to the grapes, the second refers to the wine-making process.
Stay with me.
Organic grapes are grapes grown without the use of chemical pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, and the like. Organic wine is wine that’s been made without the use of synthetic fertilizers, without added sulfites, and using (certified) organic yeast.
Organic wine is certified by the USDA, so look for that label.
Now, what we want is organic wine made with organic grapes – just to cover all the bases.
So sustainable winemaking includes resource-saving and ecology-protecting practices, and therefore results in safeguarding the environment as well as the workers in the industry (through fair and responsible worker policies).
Now things get more interesting…
What is Biodynamic Wine?
Keeping aside the organic grapes and organic wine-making process, what about the overall system within which the wine is created? Enter ‘biodynamic wine.’
The Demeter Association, Inc., part of Demeter International, is a not-for-profit with the mission to enable people to farm successfully, and heal the planet through agriculture. They follow the trademarked Biodynamic® practices and principles, and certify farms that do. These practices include regenerative farming, organic farming, soil health, land stewardship, etc. The Demeter Biodynamic Farm Standard is a “comprehensive organic farming method that requires the creation and management of a closed system minimally dependent on imported materials, and instead meets its needs from the living dynamics of the farm itself.”
So, which wines are biodynamic? Biodynamic-certified wine has been made following all the healthy farming system principles listed by the Demeter Association.
But some things still slip through. A biodynamic wine may sometimes contain sulfites, for instance. So it isn’t a complete solution for identifying sustainable wine. Let’s look at some other certifications in the wine industry.
About Sulfites in Wine
Sulfites, or sulfur dioxide, are of two types: natural and added. Natural sulfites are produced during wine fermentation, and act as an antimicrobial agent. Added sulfites are added to preserve the wine’s freshness and to protect it from oxidation, and unwanted bacteria and yeasts.
Sulfites have gotten a bad rap because they may cause headaches in people who are allergic to them. But this is not really a risk when it comes to wine. Sulfite content should not exceed 350 PPM (parts per million) by law, and wine has an average of 80 PPM.
Third-party Certifications for Sustainable Wine
What is a certified sustainable winery? The American wine industry has a few certifications to inform consumers about the practices used by the winemaker. Look for labels such as:
5 / LODI Rules
Other countries have similar certifications. These certifications are just guidelines for when you’re wine-shopping. Make sure to also do some research into the brand, speak to any local wine-makers in your area, and join forums and groups that discuss the details of such practices.
And also check out the list below!
Best Sustainable Wines & Ethical Wine Brands
Looking for sustainable wine brands for the holiday season? Try these out!
Price: From $16
Sustainability: sustainable | organic | Demeter-certified biodynamic
Benziger operates with environmentally-sound growing methods, including biodiversity, soil revitalization and integrated pest management.
2 // Bonterra
Price: From $14
Sustainability: Climate Neutral® Certified | zero waste | GMO-free
Bonterra’s regenerative farming includes a closed-loop system of composting and animal grazing. They recycle and compost winery waste. They also use renewable energy and recycled packaging materials.
Bonterra wine is available in glass bottles and in cans.
3 // Brooks
Price: From $25
Sustainability: B Corp | 1% for the Planet
Brooks Wine was started in 1998 by Jimi Brooks to use biodynamics and his approach to gentle winemaking. Brooks received the Demeter-biodynamic certification in 2012.
4 // Clos Lentiscus | Spain
Price: $24 onwards
Sustainability: made with wild yeast
Clos Lentiscus offers red, white, and rosé wines, and sparkling wines made with wild yeast. They follow biodynamic farming in the protected area of Parc Del Garraf.
5 // Fetzer
Price: From $7
Sustainability: carbon-neutral | Zero Waste Certified | B Corp
The company uses renewable energy for its operations (solar, wind, geothermal), and, in 2019, saved enough energy to power 73 homes.
6 // L’Auratae | Italy
Price: From $9
Sustainability: certified EU organic | vegan options
This multi-award winning Sicilian brand makes sustainably grown, organic and vegan wine.
7 // Proud Pour
Sustainability: sustainably grown | certified organic grapes
Proud Pour supports environmental nonprofits that protect bees and soil, wild oysters, sea turtles, and coral reefs.
8 // Silver Oak
Price: From $90
Sustainability: LEED-certified wineries | Living building status
This family-owned, multi-generational winery prioritizes sustainability. They practice ‘precision viticulture’ and water conservation strategies, and The San Francisco Chronicle called them “California’s Most Eco-Conscious Winery”.
9 // Tablas Creek
Price: From $22
Sustainability: certified organic | biodynamic | hand-harvested
The first winery in the US to be a Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC) vineyard, Tablas Creek follows principles of sustainable farming, focusing on soil health and carbon capture, as well as farmworker fairness.
10 // The Wonderful Wine Co.
Price: $17 – $18
Sustainability: low sulfites | organic grapes | vegan options
The Wonderful Wine Co. uses lightweight glass and ships the bottles in recycled and recyclable materials. The wine is sold in packs on their website, but bottles are available at Winc. Check out their Malvasia and Syrah!
12 // Cono Sur
13 // Domaine Ostertag
14 // Dutton Estate
15 // Ferrari-Carano
16 // HŌM Biodynamic Wines
17 // Meinklang
18 // Mother’s Choice
19 // St. Supéry
20 // TerrAmore
21 // Winderlea
Sustainable Wine Packaging
Paper & Recycled Plastic
Some brands use fully recyclable peper bottles to house their wine. Australia’s Accolade Wines launched Wise Wolf by Banrock Station (Accolade’s eco-friendly wine brand), which comes in a 100% post-consumer recycled glass cullet, with labels that are made from 100% recycled paper and closures made from 100% recycled plastic. Banrock Station’s Merlot and Chardonnay come in food-safe, BPA-free, recycled PET flat bottles.
Eco-glass & Refillable Glass Bottles
Refillable wine bottles like those produced by Conscious Container’s Refill My Wine are another option. The company’s goal is to reduce single-use packaging waste and “turn glass bottles into multi-use vessels by setting up an infrastructure for collection, cleaning, inspection, and re-use.”
And then when it comes to storage containers, brands such as Frey Vineyards, the Californian organic and biodynamic wine house, use locally produced recycled cardboard to ship wine to distributors and customers.
Sustainable Wine Solutions
If you’re a winemaker, or thinking of becoming one, check out Sustainable Wine Solutions. This company is the go-to service provider for the industry’s sustainable wine needs, with a Wine-on-Tap, VinoTap™ and the Bottle Return Scheme. Their team of operations and winery experts manage all elements of the supply chain, ensuring watertight quality control in the business. They focus on zero waste solutions, rebottling services, and the circular economy.
Buy Locally Made Wines
One of the contributors to the carbon footprint of wine is the transportation aspect of the industry. Wine is obviously a popular drink, and a lot of wine gets transported all over the world. The best thing to do, therefore, is to try to buy wine that’s been made as close to you as possible – so that it doesn’t take much energy to transport it to you. Check out your local vineyards and wineries. Yes, sometimes you may want that Cabernet Sauvignon from the vineyard in Paris. But that should be a rare treat to indulge in occasionally, and not the norm.
Switching to Sustainable Wines
Change is afoot. But it isn’t happening fast enough to match the rate of climate change. Seventy-three percent of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging (and 83% of younger buyers asked the same question). This holiday season, start trying out some of the sustainable wines you read about in this post!
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NOTE: All brand photographs belong to the respective brands/businesses.