Sustainable wine is often confused with organic wine, these two things are not mutually exclusive. Sustainable wine may or may not be organic and wines that are produced organically, may or may not adhere to sustainability guidelines. Sustainable wine is defined as follows:
“The inherent concept is that the product has been made in such a manner that it will allow the vineyards and environment to continue to produce an undiminished product for all future generations. The main threats to sustainability are the issues of soil depletion, erosion, water pollution, loss of biodiversity, ecological impacts, resistance to pests and chemical dependence. Sustainability looks at the environmental system as a whole. In the vineyard, it may incorporate manmade products or “natural” products, and it will likely use integrated pest management (IPM) techniques. In the winery, minimal-additive winemaking philosophies will always be present.”
In producing sustainable wine, a vintner takes into account every single aspect of the winemaking process. From soil fertility, water pollution, use of pesticides or not and soil erosion and the most important, the taste of the wine. People drink wine that tastes good, they won’t choose a poor tasting wine over a good tasting wine just because it was produced sustainably.
Organic wines can be categorized into two parts, organic vineyards or organic wines.
- Organic vineyards are managed “without the use of systemic fungicides (fungus control), insecticides (bug control), herbicides (weed control) or synthetic fertilizers. Vineyard sprays are still used, but the products are different.” Weeds are controlled through mechanical methods, such as plowing, hoeing, mulching or mowing and fertilization is done via compost mulches, green manures or animal manures. The definition of organic wine is different in every country but its general guidelines are similar. Organic wines are made from “organic grapes” that contains less than 100–120 mg/L of total sulphur dioxide. Sulphur dioxide occurs naturally during the fermentation process and it’s sometimes added to enhance microbiological/oxidative stability. There are other more natural or organic ways to increase clarity, filtration and stability such as adding milk and egg whites.
- Another method of winemaking that falls into the category of sustainable wine is wines without preservatives, they are wines that are made without any external addition of sulfur (although some is always present due to fermentation and/or vineyard), anti-oxidants or anti-microbial agents. Alcohol, acid, pH, tannins, climate and winemaking all affect the ability of a wine to age. However, most vintners agree that judicious use of sulfur can aid in the shelf life of wine.
- Finally, there is biodynamic viticulture, which was first advocated by Rudolf Steiner in the 1920’s and it gave rise to the organic wine movement. It utilizes a holistic approach to farming and views the vineyard as an interrelated unit by placing emphasis on the balance between the soil, vines and animals in a close self-nourishing system. It places high importance on composts and manures without the use of chemical fertilizers. It does use a number of fermented herbal and mineral preparations for compost additives and sprays. Biodynamic wines can be organic or additive-free.
As wine consumers, regardless of what wine we ultimately choose to buy, it’s important that we are informed of where and how the wine was made before we make our purchases.