Sorting Out Wine and Winery Certifications

Even consumers who are conscious about how their purchasing decisions impact the environment are often lost when it comes to choosing eco-friendly wines. The differences among sustainable, organic and biodynamic wine classifications aren’t always clearly stated, or understood. But increased education (both of the trade and consumers) can help demystify the “green” part of the wine category.

I recently spoke to Laura DePasquale, VP and GM of Southern Glazer’s Artisinal Wine & Spirits Division, about what makes sustainable, organic and biodynamic wines unique. She classifies each type of certification as:

Sustainable: These wines come from producers that practice greener efforts, such as renewable energy, and strive for lower waste and emissions. Sustainable doesn’t necessarily mean produced or grown with pesticides or herbicides. It has more to do with operations than the grapes or juice.

Organic: These wines must be USDA certified. This approval signifies the wine is made from 100% organically grown ingredients and has been monitored throughout the entire process. Avoiding synthetic pesticides on the fruit and in the soil while swearing off GMOs is the goal for this type of wine.

Biodynamic: This is a holistic approach to agriculture. As it pertains to wine, the land and vines are one entire being. Animals are a major part: they graze and trim the vegetation around the vines, while fertilizing the soil.

Beverage Wholsaler: Most winemakers understand the differences in wine certifications, but not consumers and members of the trade? What can be done to educate them?

Laura DePasquale: That’s the million dollar question. A lot of education needs to be provided to the trade, and then consumer education becomes incumbent upon them. Often, winemakers come out and talk to retailers specifically about their winery – they don’t talk about the practices in general in a big-picture way. Even wine associations don’t talk about general practices, and it’s a huge opportunity for them to do so. Once they’ve educated the trade, they can start to reach consumers with in-store seminars or side-by-side tastings. But first you need the trade to be on board.

BW: Consumers can’t always see the difference when they look at a bottle of sustainable or organic wine versus one that isn’t, the way they can with produce or meat. Many don’t believe you can taste a difference either. How do you overcome that?

LD: I think when you talk about smaller-production, organically farmed wines, there’s a purity in the wines that doesn’t exist in a chemically treated vineyard from the same area. Side-by-side tastings is one way to point out that difference. I’m not saying wines that aren’t farmed that way taste bad, but they do taste different.

BW: There was a lot of dishonest marketing when sustainability first became a trend, in many industries including wine. How important is authenticity, and is that still a problem in the wine industry?

LD: It’s still a problem in certain areas, but more on the spirits side. I will say that as Millennial consumers are drinking more wine, authenticity is of paramount concern to them. They want to know whether a wine expresses its varietal, expresses its origin, and what it’s impact is on the environment. It’s a key topic of conversation, which is why we just came out with a new marketing piece that lists every one of our wineries with a symbol that indicates whether they’re sustainable, organic, some biodynamic or fully biodynamic.

This topic is becoming more important to the trade. Consumers have certainly grabbed onto the movement with vegetables, meats, milk and the like. It’s becoming a more important and prevalent conversation everywhere, including with wine.

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