When we think of vineyards, we think of rolling hillocks, heavy with grape plants. It’s idyllic, right? Unfortunately, vineyards suffer the same treatment as any other crop – and it involves a lot of pesticides.
Red wine is one of the most healthy substances you can consume (in moderation), so glow inside and out by going green (not the color!) with your wine. Sit back and relax with a glass of vino after a hard day at work (or with a loved one), and keep your conscience untroubled. Here’s how:
What is Eco-friendly wine anyway?
Eco-friendly wine derives its name mainly from the grape-farming and wine-making practices that winemakers follow.
Vineyards and wineries need third-party evaluation to certify their wine and wine-making processes as Eco-friendly.
So, what do these third-party evaluators look at? To be certified sustainable, producers must satisfy a slew of standards that cover anything from conserving water and composting to make fertilizer to reducing energy consumption and pesticide use in grape farming.
Most of these organizations look into two separate wine-production areas.
- Vineyards (where grape growing happens) – They require members to report on, among other things, fertilizer use, irrigation, biodiversity, etc
- Wineries (where grapes are made into wine) require members to report on energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, water management, staff health, safety, etc.
The case for sustainable wine
Wine is a major part of our life, culture, and cuisine. We drink wine on social occasions to celebrate special life milestones or relax at home.
Indeed, drinking wine in moderation has proven health benefits that include:
- Lowering bad cholesterol in the body
- Rich in antioxidants that boost immunity and promote longevity
- Protects against heart disease and inflammation
- Can benefit mental health by reducing the risk of depression (the occasional glass)
- Promotes healthy gut bacteria
However, wine is (or can be) disastrous to the environment. For instance, one of the world’s largest wine producers, France, uses 3% of its agricultural land for wine production. But, that portion accounts for the country’s 20% pesticide use!
It’s not just France. Another large wine producer, California, uses thousands of pounds of pesticides and fungicides in vineyards. Add onto that the carbon emitted by harvesting machinery and the CO2 produced during the wine fermentation process, and you can start seeing the effects of wine production on the environment.
With so many wine brands on the market, how do you identify Eco-friendly wine?
Four recognized wine labels point to Eco-friendly wines. They are:
In simple terms, sustainable wines aim to reduce waste and emissions. Organic wines use fewer synthetic ingredients, natural wines rely on traditional wine-making processes, while bio-dynamic wines come from a more holistic wine-making process.
But, these labels aren’t as clear-cut as we’ll see below.
Different types of Eco-friendly wine
1. Organic wine
Organic wine comes from grapes that have been grown without chemical fertilizers/weed killers/insect repellents/fungicides, in the way that nature intended. This wine will have been produced old school, with just sunshine, water, and TLC.
When our food is covered with chemicals, it almost certainly ends up in our system – it certainly ends up in our water sources, anyway. Say no to poisoning yourself and the ecosystem!
The organic label on wines is one of the most widely recognized because of its rigorous certification process.
2. Biodynamic wine
Sounds a bit scary, right? All it means is that the farmers allow the grapes to do their thing without the intervention of even natural pesticides and weed killers. Instead, they put their faith in the environment and hope for the best.
Bio-dynamic wine comes from bio-dynamic agriculture, a holistic approach to agriculture created by Rudolf Steiner.
This kind of farming incorporates the whole ecosystem focusing on breathing new life into dying soil, promoting biodiversity, and even sequestering carbon to mitigate climate change.
Unlike the mono-culture vineyards that only grow grapes, bio-dynamic farms might, for instance, compost, keep bees, or even grow other crops alongside grapes.
Additionally, bio-dynamic wine doesn’t require synthetic chemicals in the fermentation process.
3. Natural wine
It must sound confusing, doesn’t it? Isn’t all wine natural? Well, not quite.
Natural wines use very little or no additives, chemicals, or even tech-gimmicks in production at the most basic level. They also don’t have added sugars or colors.
Most natural winemakers follow a similar process that produces wine with no sulfites, unlike conventional wines.
According to most wine lovers, because natural wine doesn’t use processes like filtration and mechanical separation, the end product is a cloudier wine with a superior taste to conventional wines.
4. Sustainable wine
Sustainable wine-producing wineries pride themselves on reducing waste and greenhouse emissions. They also encourage water conservation, but it’s up to the individual farmer to decide on the tactics.
As such, sustainable wine isn’t exactly a specific label of Eco-friendly wines but an umbrella for multiple certifications under it.
One of the most widely recognized sustainable wine labels in the United States is the Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CCSW) label issued by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. It represents 81% of all wines produced in the U.S. and considers factors like water management, waste, pest control, etc.
Other popular sustainable wine labels include those issued by LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology) for wineries in the Pacific Northwest, LODI Rules and SIP (Sustainability in Practice) that considers the labor aspects of wine production.
Isn’t Wine Vegan?
It’s a common misconception that all wine is vegan. Bit of a head-scratcher, isn’t it? Surely wine is made mainly out of grapes?
Although you’d be right in one sense, the filtration process is often a stumbling block for both vegans and vegetarians. To control the tannin content of the wine, winemakers often use egg whites, gelatine, or milk proteins. There would only be a hint of this in the bottle (just a trace), but many militant vegans immediately cut wine out of their diet for this reason.
However, it doesn’t mean that all bottles are off-limits. Many are even now carrying the vegan symbol because substances such as kaolin and bentonite are replacing the animal products usually used in the filtration process. There is hope yet!
Keep your eyes peeled at wineries and supermarkets for any bottles with ‘vegan/vegetarian friendly’ on the label.
There’s bound to be a handful of bottles that you can drink. Organic wines are usually the best place to start looking, as they are less likely to use animal products in their wineries. Being a vegan or vegetarian trooper shouldn’t mean that you can’t enjoy a glass of red wine in the evenings.
Can You Go Local?
If you’re lucky enough to live near a vineyard, always support them with your business. This means fewer air miles go into shipping the wine, and you are financially bolstering winemakers in your area – critical if they are a small business.
Wine, in moderation, is good for your health. However, as we’ve established, wine production isn’t the most environmentally friendly process. Still, you can pair a good bottle of Eco-friendly wine with any occasion, e.g, Valentine’s, by understanding the different wine labels and what they mean for you, your health, and the environment.
Happy New Lunar New Year, aka, Chinese New Year! 2022 is the Year of the Tiger.
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for freshness and consistency.