Sustainability is defined from an environmental perspective as “the avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance”. The objectives include a desire to improve environmental performance, improve the quality of wine growing and winemaking in an environmentally responsive manner, provide information to consumers and add value to the wine industry and the community.
Because of climate change, people are more willing than ever to go “green” with their eating habits, from going more plant-based to cutting back on food waste. Many people have become interested in making their beverages more eco-friendly, including drinking sustainable wine.
Wine Growers Canada (WGC) supports a selection of appropriate environmental sustainability programs for both winery and vineyard operations, underlining a widespread awareness of environmental sustainability and a commitment to implementation. WGC’s Environmental Sustainability Principles were developed in cooperation with FIVS, a worldwide organization designed to serve the alcohol beverage industry. FIVS also collaborates with the International Organization of Wine and Vine (OIV) on sustainability, and both have been adopted by the World Wine Trade Group. These principles ensure flexibility in achieving environmental sustainability objectives, while preserving the programs of individual wineries and providing an ability to achieve success within a company’s particular operating environment.
The vineyards are where sustainable practices are the most obvious. The main objective is to reduce the need for the use of chemicals and create a healthy viable biodiversity where the vineyard can survive.
Some vintners are using sheep to mow and fertilize their vineyards. Sheep along with ducks work to control pests and weeds.
Cover crops such as grasses, legumes, mustard and radishes may be planted between the rows of vines to assist with soil fertility, enhance microbial activity and protect against soil erosion. These plants attract desirable predatory insects that can help control the species that can damage the vines and fruit.
Use of alternative energy sources such as solar panels are also helpful.
The proximity of the vineyard to the winery can have a sustainable impact. The closer the two are together the less physical stress the grapes will have between harvesting and wine making.
A winery having a significant portion underground reduces heating and cooling energy requirements. Underground cellars naturally maintain a consistent level of temperature and humidity.
Geothermal heating and cooling systems, as well as using gravity rather than pumps to transport the wine from crushing to fermentation and cellaring are also effective practices.
In order to become a certified sustainable winery, it must be evaluated by a credited independent third party. This helps insure that a sustainability symbol or logo (usually found on the back label) truly indicates that a wine is produced using sustainable methods.
These standards include composting waste to make fertilizer, conserving water and reducing energy consumption and pesticide use. To qualify, wineries must provide records of energy use and greenhouse gas emissions as well as water management and employee health and safety.
Sustainable wine-grape growing is a journey, not a destination.
Identifying Sustainable Wine
If you want to choose good-quality sustainable wine, take time to learn more about where the wine came from and how the grapes are produced. The easiest way to do this is to look for third-party labels, such as EMS, LIVE or SWO (Sustainable Wines Ontario) on bottles of wine when you shop.
Canadian Wineries Practicing Sustainability
Many Ontario wineries have chosen to become a Sustainable Winemaking Ontario Certified Winery (SWO). To be certified, the wineries are audited annually to ensure they are adhering to environmentally sustainable practices in their winemaking operations. Best practices include conservation of water, reduction in waste and wastewater and implementation of energy efficiency programs, including the use of sustainable power sources.
Certified Ontario wineries must also produce VQA wines, which are made from 100% locally grown grapes. Local wines inherently have a smaller carbon footprint and also play a vital role in preserving local economies. They are an integral part of a community’s economic health.
SWO Certified wineries must also cultivate positive relationships within their community. They must be leaders in social responsibility and be committed to producing authentic regional wines.
SWO wineries and wines can be identified by the green leaf icon found on labels and in the Wine Country Ontario Travel Guide.
Participating SWO wineries are listed below:
SWO Winery & Vineyard Certified
- Cave Spring Vineyard
- Château des Charmes
- Flat Rock Cellars
- Henry of Pelham Family Estate
- Hidden Bench Estate Winery
- Malivoire Wine Company
- Pelee Island Winery & Pavilion
- Southbrook Organic Vineyards
- Stratus Vineyards
SWO Winery Certified
- Reif Estate Winery
- Strewn Winery
- Vineland Estates Winery
Some wineries also have additional certifications:
- Certified Organic wineries use 100% grapes grown without the use of chemical pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers. Instead, they fertilize with compost, compost teas, green manure and cover crops;
- Biodynamic wines are generally certified through the Demeter Farm Standard, which reflects the biodynamic principle of the farm as a living organism: self-contained and self-sustaining, following the cycles of nature; and
- Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a green building rating system. It promotes global adoption of green building and development practices through the implementation of universal performance criteria. It is administered in Canada by the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC).
The first wines certified under a new made-in-BC sustainability program should be on shelves this year. The certification process, Sustainable Winegrowing BC (SWBC), was originally scheduled to launch in April 2020, but was delayed by COVID-19. With the program up and running, BC vineyards and wineries are now able to apply for a third-party audit, receive certification and describe their wine as “made from grapes grown in a certified sustainable vineyard” or “made in a certified sustainable winery.”
Program development began more than 10 years ago, driven mostly by industry volunteers under the auspices of the BC Wine Grape Council. The wineries involved include large wineries such as Arterra and Andrew Peller, medium-size wineries like Quails’ Gate and Hillside Estate, as well as some boutique wineries like Tantalus and Le Vieux Pin/La Stella. Vineyard owners, consultants and Summerland Research and Development Centre scientists round out the membership.
To date, 68 vineyards and 37 of the province’s 280 wineries have completed the self-assessments.
Sustainability is the way of the future. Supporting these wineries is an investment in our own future and well-being. The quality and flavour of these wines is equal to, or superior to non-sustainable wines. Here’s to the future!