Help in Choosing Sustainable Wines

How sustainable is your favorite vineyard?. (Photo: Jim G [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr)

There are many ways to rate wines (my particular method is the smiley face rating system, but we’ll get into that some other time), but how do you rate a winery? When you want to choose not just a wine that you like to drink, but also one that comes from a winery that is environmentally responsible, where can you turn for that information?

Greenopia, a site that rates products on their sustainability with a leaf system (one leaf means the product or its manufacturer meets at least 50 percent of their sustainability criteria; four leaves means it meets at least 80 percent of their sustainability criteria), recently released a list of major wineries to their site and there are several individual wines rated on the site, also.

As Ariel Schwartz of Fast Company pointed out when she wrote about the top 10 wineries that made the list, “an 'organic' label is one way to judge wine sustainability, but the life cycle impact of a bottle of red goes beyond that.” It’s interesting to look at Greenopia’s winery and wine lists and see what is on those lists.

You can learn a little something from studying them -- like how sustainable Fetzer wines are. Fetzer is a wine that the popular chain restaurant I worked at (yep, I’ve worn pieces of flair) in the early '90s used to sell. Any wines we sold at that restaurant are ones that I’ve just assumed I needed to stay far away from.

But Fetzer’s wines received three leaves from Greenopia and the following comment:

All Fetzer wine is made from organic grapes and the production process is powered by renewable energy. Organic grapes means no fertilizers and pesticides are used during production and therefore is avoids the production and environmental costs of these chemicals. Fetzer has redesigned their wine bottles to conserve resources and uses recycled packaging.

Turns out, Fetzer has been getting progressively more sustainable since 1984. A look at their website shows that they are doing far more in the sustainability area than the Greenopia information tells us. Fetzer wine may not carry the USDA organic certification, but the wine is made from organic grapes and made at a very sustainable winery. I do believe I’m going to be drinking some Fetzer tonight.

Greenopia’s rating system is probably not perfect. The newly released list of major wineries excludes many of them. As a commenter on the Fast Company piece pointed out, some of these major wineries have several processing plants, and not all are equally sustainable.

But a list like this gives those of us who are hoping to discover sustainable wines a jumping off point. We can take the time to personally investigate some of the wineries and perhaps broaden our personal lists of wineries that meet our own sustainability standards. Greenopia’s ratings are an additional tool we have to help make our decisions.