Wine lovers today are increasingly looking for transparency in the way their wines are produced. Thankfully, the last 10 years has seen a major uptick in new certifications that are making it onto the labels of some of your favorite wine bottles.
The differences between “Sustainable In Practice'', USDA Organic and Demeter certifications will be examined in this post.
Unlike food, wine doesn’t legally have to label its ingredients. Why? Food is regulated by the FDA and alcohol is regulated by the TTB (Alcohol & Tobacco Tax Trade Bureau). The FDA passed new labeling measures in 1990 for food products while the TTB did not. In 2013, the TTB passed a law allowing the option of nutrition labels.
SIP Certified (Sustainability In Practice)
According to sipcertified.org - “SIP Certified is a rigorous sustainable vineyard, winery, and wine certification with strict, non-negotiable standards based on science and expert input, independent verification, transparency, and absence of conflict of interest. Certification addresses the 3 P’s of Sustainability – People, Planet, Prosperity – ensuring that both natural and human resources are protected”.
Sustainability has one eye on the present and the other on the future. Practices like water efficiency, utilizing renewable energy sources, incorporating biodiversity for soil health, paying workers a fair wage and providing more yearly work, not seasonal, are characteristics of SIP. Winery sustainability programs provide superior grapes, a healthier environment, happier neighbors, waste management and wildlife habitat conservation. Sustainability encourages cover crops in the vineyard to provide needed aeration, and nitrogen to the soil and to prevent erosion. Animals such as bees, sheep, geese, pigs and chickens are implemented to eat pests and weeds, provide manure and increase biodiversity. Sustainability should support and enhance its community. This label is used mostly for California wine.
LIVE (Low Intervention Viticulture and Enology)
LIVE is Oregon’s main independent third-party sustainability certification program. Nearly half of all vineyards in Oregon are certified sustainable. Wine production in Oregon commenced in the 1960’s providing growers enough foresight to understand the natural beauty and pure soils they were tending and to comprehend that protection against conventional/industrial farming was needed. A point system is used so growers know where they can improve in the years to come. On top of maintaining all key sustainable components LIVE certification requires certification from Salmon Safe, to protect watershed quality.
Organic wine focuses on chemical free grapes with no sulfur additions. Sulfur acts as a natural preservative. The keyword here is “additions”. Wine, by its very nature, contains sulfites. It’s the addition at the bottling stage that has come into controversy. Proponents of no sulfur additions see it as a more natural product (sans human manipulation) while opponents speak to its ability to aid in the aging ability of the wine. Yeast is another component of USDA organic wine. The yeast must be certified organic or come naturally from the winery’s ambient ecosystem. Synthetic pesticides and herbicides are strictly forbidden.
“Made with organic grapes” is another descriptor you’ll see on a label. In this officially designated label the main difference between USDA Organic and “made with organic grapes'' is that MWOG also has to contain organically grown grapes but can use non-organic yeast and add small amounts of sulfur at bottling to preserve the wine.
Not all producers who farm organically are certified due to the cost so just because it doesn’t have the label doesn't necessarily mean it's not.
DEMETER - BIODYNAMICS
In the 1920s, Austrian philosopher, social reformer and writer, Rudolf Steiner created an innovative organic farming technique that would become biodynamics and the basis for Demeter certification. Biodynamic farming embraces a wholly integrated but closed ecosystem which follows the moon cycles which dictate the planting, pest & weed treatments and harvest schedule. The farm and thus the ecosystem should be self-sufficient. Minimal materials should be brought in from outside the farm. The co-existence and mutually beneficial relationships between animals, plants, soil, humans and the cosmos is paramount according to this practice.
Demeter (named after the Greek Goddess of harvest and agriculture) is the primary biodynamic certification label for the wine industry. This certification is one of the few that spans across multiple countries and is widely accepted as the premier biodynamic certification due to its strict adherence policies and vigorous requirements.
Biodynamics uses nine different preparations for yielding soulful, cosmic-energy enhancing crops that stem from herbs, mineral sources and animal manures that are then turned into compost and sprays to enhance soil and plant life vitality.
Vegan? Why are we talking about this? Wine is fermented grape juice right? That’s of course right...but...it is commonplace for winemakers to add animal products or by-products to the juice for fining, filtration and clarification purposes. Animal-derived fining agents include - bone marrow, milk proteins, egg whites, fish oils, fish bladders and gelatin. The fining agents are necessary to clear cloudiness and organic materials out of the wine. Vegan is not regulated by the USDA or FDA so is up to the winery's moral discretion. Wineries should use bentonite clay, limestone, carbon or several other alternatives when labeling vegan.
ABOUT One Vine Wines
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