How transparent is your wine? Whether it’s red or white you probably know where it was made and the types of grapes that were used, but what else is in that bottle, it a sustainable wine, and how big is that bottle’s carbon footprint?
Sustainability doesn’t necessarily mean transparency; information about what a winery does to create a sustainable and natural wine is not always being passed on to the consumer. That can change through more informative labeling.
Recycling the wine containers is also a part of sustainability and surprisingly, bottles may not be the best choice for all wines.
“A sustainable winery can be defined as a winery that keeps consideration (and takes action) for the economic, social, and environmental effects their product has on the world. “
What is a Sustainable Wine?
Wineries can follow sustainable practices by obtaining certifications depending on how the grapes were grown and what was added to the wine in production.
An organic vineyard does not use synthetic pesticides or fungicides in growing their grapes. There are multiple certifications for organic wines. Wines certified as organic by the USDA must have the following requirements:
Organically grown grapes
Natural sulfites must not exceed 20 parts per million
No sulfite additives or any inorganic preservatives
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Sulfites are a sulfur additive that act as a preservative. Organic wines with fewer sulfites have a shorter shelf life and should be stored in your refrigerator. An alternative to buying USDA organic certified wines is to buy wine made with organic grapes. These wines are made with organic grapes and organic additives and are non-GMO, but are allowed up to 100 ppm sulfites. These wines have no USDA certification seal, but look for the term “organically grown grapes” on the label. When buying European Wines look for the EU Organic certification.
Sustainable certifications take into account environmental and climate conditions which vary geographically. For this reason, most sustainable wine certifications are regional. For California wines look for Certified California Sustainable Vineyard and Winery (CCSW), SIP Certified (Sustainability in Practice) and Lodi Rules. LIVE Certified and Salmon Certified can be found in the northwest region of the US. International sustainable certifications vary by country.
Biodynamic wineries use a farming system that takes care of soil health and uses lunar cycles to schedule planting. Demeter, a global certification, is the only certification for biodynamic wines. This wine sampler from Organic Wine Exchange carries the Demeter certification.
What’s on the Bottle?
With all the labeling in the food industry, the wine sector has not kept pace with consumers’ interest in healthy products and organic ingredients. The wine industry has resisted transparent nutrition and ingredient labeling that can be found on other alcoholic beverages like seltzers.
A health warning statement, alcohol content and sulfites are just some of the information required by the US government on a wine label. Dietary information and organic claims are optional. Calorie content and other ingredients are not required on labels. Scout & Cellar, a winery founded by Sarah Shadonix and committed to its Clean Crafted Commitment® wine, is at the forefront of wine label transparency and includes calorie and other nutritional information on its labels and even more information on its Soil-to-Sip Report™.
“Most bottles, and eventually all will, have a label on the back with some details such as alcohol by volume, residual sugar, carbs, etc. There is also a Soil to Sip Report which has the details about the vineyard, ingredients, nutritional information, etc. Scout & Cellar is the only company providing this type of report and transparency.”
Ann Hughes, Independent Wine Consultant, Scout & Cellar Winery
For more information about ingredients in wines and how they are made you can go through a hub like Organic Wine Exchange where you can learn about and buy vegan wines, biodynamic wines and wine with no sulfites added. You can also join a wine club where you will receive a selection of wine monthly.
The Organic Wine Exchange is not only a marketplace for organic and biodynamic wines, but strives to educate consumers on their website.
“As you learn more about the different processes of farming, types of certifications, labeling laws, types of sustainability, and environmental contributions from each winery, you will come closer to identifying what is important to you.”
How is a Sustainable Wine Packaged?
The first wine vessel, from over 8,000 years ago, was a clay pot. Clay is not very practical for shipping and merchandising in the current marketplace and glass bottles have become the norm because they store and age wine so well. Unfortunately, glass bottles increase the carbon footprint. Although glass is efficient to recycle, it is environmentally unfriendly to make and only ⅓ of glass gets recycled. Much of that gets crushed to be made into roads rather than more glass bottles.
Wine companies can reduce their carbon footprint by using lighter glass bottles, aluminum cans, pouches, cartons or boxes.
Cans can reduce the carbon footprint and add to the circular economy; 90% of recycled cans get turned into new beverage cans. They have other advantages as well.
“Cans are very popular, especially with tailgating, pool parties and picnics. They are lightweight, easy to transport and won’t break!“
Ann Hughes, Independent Wine Consultant, Scout & Cellar Winery
Wine in a box carries a stigma as being cheap, but it actually carries the lowest carbon footprint. It stays fresher longer after opening and because most wines are consumed within the first year they do not need to be in glass to age.
So, if you’re having a party, try serving wine from a box. You won’t have to get rid of any empty bottles and your leftover wine will stay fresher. For a tailgate or pool party take some wine in cans–they are lightweight and won’t break. If you’re giving wine as a gift, however, you might want to follow tradition and bring a (lightweight) bottle.