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Sustainability Goes to Market

Two new tools lead consumers and merchants to greener wines

by Kate Lavin
Green Wines
Gold award for green wines
San Rafael, Calif. -- Two industry groups recently published lists of vineyards and wineries that adhere to sustainable practices. Wine Competition Management LLC and the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance have divergent ways of choosing who is included on their lists--and their target audiences are different as well--but both groups point out that wine can be green and great.

International Green Wine Competition

Wine Competition Management director Lea Pierce said the Green Wine Competition represents "a lot of shades of green." The group's newly-published "shopping list" is a record of all 153 winning wines, broken down into gold, silver and bronze medalists. Judges for the competition, which made its debut May 5, reviewed wines in four categories created in collaboration with the competition's honorary chairman Paul Dolan, a partner in Parducci Vineyards and Mendocino Wine Company, and former president of Fetzer Vineyards:

Organic -- These wines are made from grapes grown in certified organic vineyards. Proof of certification is required to be included in this category.

Biodynamic -- Winegrapes in this category must come from vineyards that are certified as Biodynamic by Demeter, Biodyvin or another international third-party certification agency.

Transitional and Third-Party Certified--Since it takes most vineyards at least three years to transition to organic or Biodynamic farming, this popular category caters to wines from vineyards that are in the process of going greener. The competition requires proof of enrollment with a certification agency.

Natural -- According to Pierce, many vineyards in Europe have been practicing sustainable farming for literally hundreds of years, and growers don't see the need to be certified through a third-party agency. Non-certified international winemakers who practice chemical-free grapegrowing and winemaking may compete in this category.

Pierce said that Wine Competition Management created the green competition because consumers are more concerned than ever about what they put in their bodies, and the market for sustainable products is booming. However, general lists of all sustainable winemakers don't tell consumers which "green" wines are the most pleasurable to drink.

"The number of wineries offering organic and biodynamic wines is exploding, and we wanted to get that information to the consumers. And we not only wanted to do that, but to give them the good stuff," Pierce said. "We really want to provide consumers with good information so that they can spend their wine dollars wisely and get what they want."

Wine drinkers want to have choice, she said. To help consumers figure out which wines are good choices for their particular needs, prices are listed on the shopping list. Bottles range from under $10 to more than $100. Pierce added that judges in the competition were industry leaders, and one-third of the wines competing in the Santa Rosa, Calif.-based contest were international entries.

And because the list is made up of competition winners, it will change every year and continue familiarizing consumers with some lesser-known winemakers practicing sustainability.

"One of the coolest things that's happened from our standpoint is we had a couple of distributors call and say, 'We're looking for organic wines to promote, what have you got?'" Pierce said. "People who want to drink organic should know the good stuff--they want to know the good stuff. This is one way to give people an extremely varied list."

Green Wines
Bonterra's award-winning organic Sauvignon Blanc
Bonterra Vineyards won gold medals in both organic and Biodynamic categories, and Pierce named Summerhill Pyramid Winery of British Columbia, Bonny Doon Vineyard of Santa Cruz, Calif., and Heartswork Winery of Nevada County, Calif., as standouts in the organic category.

A list of 2008 winners of the International Green Wine Competition is available online at

California Sustainable Winegrowing Program (SWP)

Another group, the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, is publishing its own list of participants in the winegrowing program that promotes environmental responsibility among state winegrape growers. Participants volunteer to take a self-assessment and be ranked according to their level of sustainable practices, and the results are confidential. But according to Gladys Horiuchi of the Wine Institute, many participants, wine journalists and even retailers have asked for a list of participating members, and the alliance has given wineries and vineyards the option of being included.

"There is no certification yet, and we're in the process of doing that right now," Horiuchi said. "In lieu of certification, this seems like a way to recognize people in the program."

Participants' winemaking practices are measured against 200 management practices from the Code of Sustainable Winegrowing. Once a vineyard or winery has completed the initial assessment, educational workshops are available to help the business continue reaching goals of sustainability, such as energy efficiency, conservation and promoting biodiversity.

"Sustainability is a very broad list of practices that people are working on. I'd say it's more an environmental program," Horiuchi said.

While consumers might comprise a small segment of the audience for the SWP list, Horiuchi said restaurants and retailers catering to sustainability-minded consumers always are looking for wines that fit their business models. Additionally, many winemakers practicing sustainability don't market themselves as "green," meaning distributors and buyers may not be aware of their practices when seeking out new wines.

A list of vineyards and wineries that have chosen to be recognized for their affiliation with the program is available at
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