10 American Wine Companies that Think (and Act) Green

April 24, 2012 View all articles in General

In the past we've talked about beer companies that strive to be more sustainable, but what about wine? When it comes to wine, there is a lot of commotion about Certified Organic vs. Certified Organic Grapes, and then there are vegan and biodynamic wines—it's easy to get confused.

Certified Organic means that the wines are USDA organic and are produced without synthetic pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. These wines also do not contain any additional sulfur (all wines contain trace amounts of naturally occurring sulfur as a byproduct of fermentation, up to 20 parts per million).

Making it easier on vintners, but more confusing for consumers, the USDA permits winemakers to use the term “Certified Organic Grapes,” meaning that the grapes are grown in compliance with USDA organic certification standards, but may contain additional sulfites as preservatives. These wines still contain less than 100ppm, which is significantly less than many commercial wines that do not contain this seal of approval.

Wines that are considered vegan are clarified after fermentation without the aid of gelatins, isinglass, milk proteins or egg albumin. Vegan wines are difficult to find, and most winemakers use one type of animal product or another to remove sediment after fermentation. Bentonite and kaolin are common mineral alternatives, and still other vintners filter their wines without additives.

Biodynamic wines are wines certified by the Demeter Association, an international organization that sets and upholds the standards and principles of biodynamic farming. These methods often include methods of sustainability above and beyond organic farming, including composting, burying cow horns filled with manure, and planting according to phases of the moon. Considered a pseudoscience by some, this method of viticulture has produced some surprisingly high-performing wines and biodynamic wines are noted for their excellent artisanship.

PLANET FRIENDLY WINES WORTH CONSIDERING

  • Fetzer Wines - As the largest grower of Certified Organic grapes in North America, Fetzer makes up 20% of organic wines produced in California . All of their vineyards are certified organic through the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), and they are members of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA). They have used 100% renewable energy since 1999, are the only winery to use 100% Green Power, and they treat and recycle their wastewater onsite. Fetzer produces wine without the use of harmful chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides.
  • Parducci Wine Cellars - America's first carbon-neutral wine company, Parducci Wine Cellars has received the Governor's Environmental and Economic Leadership Award in 2007 and 2009, California's highest environmental award. Parducci is one of the most eco-friendly and sustainable wines in the US . Parducci uses Certified Organic grapes grown locally in Mendocino County , CA using sustainable farming practices, eco-friendly packaging and 100% renewable energy.
  • Frey Vineyards - Frey family farms have been growing organic grapes since the 1960s, but the tradition has been alive in Mendocino County for centuries. Deeply rooted in Italian traditions, immigrants in the late 1880s resisted pressure to add chemicals to their wine in the industrial era following WWI. In 1980, Frey Vineyards joined the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) and became one of the first vineyards to produce wine from certified organic grapes. In 2008, Frey Vineyards produced 12 different varietals of wine from fruit grown in more than 30 certified organic farms. These varietals are not only produced without harmful pesticides and fertilizers, but they also recycle the grape seeds and leftovers back into the soil through composting and use companion plants to produce a biodiverse and eco-friendly farm that discourages insects naturally.
  • The Naked Grape - The Naked Grape recycles 100% of their water back into their vineyard to reduce their water consumption and carbon footprint. They also use solar panels to produce 2.4MM kilowatts of energy annually—that's enough to power more than 200 American homes for one year. The Naked Grape uses recycled glass and recycled paper products for their packaging materials, and all grape seeds, stems and skins are cleaned, dried and re-purposed as feed for cattle and compost. The vineyard staff also utilizes bicycles to navigate their 50-acre winery and frequently volunteer in community service projects.
  • Bonterra Organic Vineyards - Literally translating to “good earth” Bonterra has been producing organic grapes since 1987. Not only a certified organic wine, Bonterra is also a Demeter certified biodynamic wine. Bonterra uses special mineral and microbial treatments applied throughout the vineyard at precise times during the year to maintain an ecological balance and provide nutrients to the vine. An unusual practice to some, but common to biodynamic agriculture, Bonterra fills cow horns with manure and buries them to ripen during winter, then digs them up in the spring and uses the contents to fertilize the soil. Produced by winemaker Bob Blue, Bonterra wines are affiliated with Fetzer Vineyards in Mendocino County .
  • Silver Thread - Silver Thread Vineyard in New York was established in the early 1980s near Seneca Lake . The vineyard uses sustainable farming practices, such as using mulch and compost instead of fertilizer, to enrich the soil and ripen the vine. Silver Thread also limits the use of synthetic pesticides in favor of natural sprays such as seaweed extract, fish emulsion, and a special tea made on the farm. They do not use herbicides, and their Pinot Noir 2009 was given 88 points by Wine Enthusiast magazine.
  • Cooper Mountain - An organic wine from Oregon , Cooper Mountain wines began in 1990 and is certified organic from Oregon Tilth and have biodynamic certification from Demeter. In 2010, Cooper Mountain Vineyards completed the Carbon Neutral Challenge by purchasing renewable energy, utilizing bio-fuel from recycled oil for tractor usage, and registering with the Climate Registry. This vineyard prohibits the use of synthetic substances, genetically modified organisms, and limits sulfites to 100ppms (50% less than most commercial wines). Cooper Mountain Vineyards also developed a standard along with Oregon Tilth for organic growers to protect the Oregon salmon population by managing pest control issues that could harm aquatic ecosystems, control soil erosion and manage irrigation water usage. The Cooper Mountain Vineyards 2009 Reserve Pinot Noir was named one of Fox News' 2012 top 10 organic wines in the US .
  • DFV Wines - DFV wines have been family farmed by the Indelicato family in California for more than 80 years. The winemakers at the two major vineyards stewarded by the Indelicato family, San Bernabe and Clay Station, are home to a host of organisms including deer, mountain lions, owls, ducks and fish. These vineyards are maintained with natural controls rather than synthetic herbicides and pesticides. San Bernabe Vineyards adheres to the code of ethics for sustainable winegrowing practices put forth by the Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers. San Bernabe Vineyards is also a founding member of the Central Coast Vineyard Team, an organization aimed at promoting environmentally safe and sustainable winegrape growing practices. The land at Clay Station is farmed under the Lodi Rules Program of Sustainability established by the Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission. Some of the wines produced by DFV Wines include Gnarly Head, Twisted, and Bota Box, which comes in an eco-friendly Tetra Pak.
  • Jack Rabbit Hill -This organic and biodynamic wine from Hotchkiss , CO has been USDA-certified organic since its origins in 2000 and completed its Demeter Biodynamic certification in 2008.
  • Yellow+Blue - While Yellow+Blue does not exclusively carry North American wines, this company imports certified organic wines from around the world by the barrel, and then packages them in the US to minimize their carbon footprint. This company boasts 93% wine and 7% packaging with the use of their environmentally friendly Tetra Paks. That's nearly half (54%) the carbon footprint of more traditional distribution and packaging methods.

This article was written by Brittney Hansen. She is a vegetarian, a foodie, a wine snob, and writes for a company that sells Earth Day tees.

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