Sustainability Definitions

Sustainable, Organic and Biodynamic:  What does it mean to be “green?”

At J. Lohr, we’ve been practicing sustainable winegrowing for a number of years, stemming from Jerry Lohr’s agricultural roots growing up in a farming family in South Dakota. To this end, our focus on a comprehensive, sustainable approach to winegrowing includes preparing our vineyards with organic amendments—material or process added to soil to improve its physical properties, such as water retention, permeability, water infiltration, drainage, aeration and structure—years before we plant the first vines. Once the vines are planted, we use cover crops to limit weeds, enhance soil health, and prevent erosion. These are some of the initial practices we follow to reinforce our commitment to sustainability, as we adhere to a set of standard industry definitions to help guide us.

While many wineries are “growing green” to nurture healthy soils, maintain clear waterways, protect wildlife, ensure safe conditions for field and winery workers, use alternative fuels, recycle and more, there are additional environmentally-friendly practices that deserve clarification:

Sustainable winegrowing: California winegrowers follow sustainability guidelines in myriad ways, the most important being a reduction in the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, which are replaced with natural remedies. Natural means are used for pest management. Growers use organic fertilizers and compost rather than man-made additions. Vineyard managers erect owl boxes and raptor perches, providing homes for birds that prey on destructive gophers, mice, and moles. Streams and rivers are restored so that fish populations thrive.

Wineries trap rainfall in reservoirs and use this water for irrigation. Paper, cardboard, glass, plastic, grape pomace and landscaping waste are recycled. Soy-based inks are used on packaging materials. Solar panels capture the California sun and convert it to energy. Underground and hillside caves keep wines cool as they age in barrels, decreasing or eliminating the need for airconditioned cellars.

Wine producers are striving to become “carbon-neutral,” offsetting the amount of carbon dioxide they create during the winemaking process. This can be done by the use of wind and solar power, and vehicles that run on biodiesel fuel. Trees have the capacity to absorb carbon emissions, so new ones are planted to counteract the carbon dioxide emitted during fermentation. Sustainability also includes fair wages and housing opportunities for workers, making their work conditions as safe as possible, and training employees on how to keep the business green and pristine.

Organics and biodynamics: An increasing number of growers farm organically or biodynamically. An organic vineyard uses no synthetic pesticides or other non-organic chemicals; soil enrichment, pests, weeds and vine diseases are managed through the use of natural preparations, cover crops and hand-working the soil.

Biodynamic farming follows the tenets of organic grapegrowing and uses herbal remedies, treating the vineyard as a complete ecosystem. Compost teas and natural preparations enrich the soil and keep micro-organisms alive. Insectaries provide a welcoming home for creatures that prey upon harmful pests. The timing of planting and pruning is determined by the phases of the sun and moon.

Wine labels: Currently, there is no single “sustainable” label for California wine. There are, however, a growing number of regional green labels, and the statewide sustainability program is now developing third-party verification. Increasingly, wineries communicate their sustainable practices on the back of the labels and on their Web sites.

Wines labeled as “organic” or “made with organically grown grapes” are produced with grapes grown without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides or fungicides for a period of at least three years. The key difference between “organic” wines and wines “made with organically grown grapes” is that bottles labeled “organic” do not have added sulfites, which prevent oxidation and spoilage. Labels for “organic” and “made with organically grown grapes” are approved by the U.S. Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) and the National Organic Program.

Labels for “biodynamic” wines are also approved by the TTB and certified by a third party.


Excerpted with permission from California Wine: Liquid Gold, a publication of The Wine Institute, the Voice for California Wine.