What are Environmental Standards and Sustainability schemes?
Wine sustainability schemes have been around since the 1990s with the ‘Lodi Rules’ in California one of the first. Since then, many other regions, countries and certifying bodies have introduced schemes covering vineyard and winery practices.
Organic certification is tightly regulated and only those wines that are labelled as organic and have the necessary certification can be listed by us as organic. In addition, The Wine Society must be registered as an organic importer and our warehouses are audited by Organic Farmers & Growers to ensure we handle organic goods correctly.
In the vineyard, organic certification prohibits the use of substances of synthetic origin. Maximum levels of sulphur are also lower than for conventional viticulture. Substances such as copper are permitted and are frequently used to prevent mildew in vineyards. This attracts some controversy as copper levels can build up in the soil over time.
Biodynamism takes organic production as a starting point but, adopting the theories of Rudolf Steiner, takes a holistic view in which the vineyard is treated as a living organism impacted by the phases of the moon and the use of natural preparations to enhance soil health. Whilst some winemakers adopt biodynamic principles, not all seek certification which is currently only available through Demeter. As some preparations make use of cow’s horns and deer bladders, some consider it impossible for biodynamic wines to be vegan.
Many winemakers are supportive of a lower-intervention approach to winemaking but are reluctant to commit to the cost and restrictions of organic certification, particularly in challenging areas of wine production. Others are keen to also recognise the social issues that are a consideration in the production of wine. Here, sustainability schemes have their place with numerous local and national certifications available. Given that schemes do vary in requirements and that not all involve independent audit it can be challenging to be sure of how meaningful some of these logos might be.
The vast majority of New Zealand and South African wines are signed up to their relevant national sustainability schemes, with other schemes such as Terra Vitis and Haute Valeur Environnementale gaining in popularity in France. Typically, these cover environmental standards such as preserving biodiversity and reductions in fertiliser and water usage whilst allowing the use of some limited application of chemicals in particularly challenging vintages – recognising that a harvest is necessary for a sustainable business. Often, local priority issues can also be included. For example, in South Africa there is a particular focus on the health and wellbeing of workers.
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