Last week we looked at how wine consumers can be eco-conscious when they shop.
As I was writing that column, I found that I kept repeating the same mantra: Buy local.
When we buy locally produced goods we cut down on energy expended in shipping and transportation and, at the same time, support our local economy.
But there’s added eco-value to buying locally bottled vino: Oregon wine is a world leader in sustainable production and a model for other industries throughout the state.
“Twenty-six percent of Oregon vineyard acreage has been certified sustainable, organic or biodynamic. That is the highest percentage (of any wine region) in the world,” says Ted Farthing, executive director of the Oregon Wine Board. “Without even looking for any logos on the back label, you can rest assured that Oregon is a leader in the sustainability movement.” It’s in the details Here are a few snapshots of everyday life in Oregon’s green wine industry: tractors fueled by biodiesel working vineyards all over the state; Toyota Prius hybrids carrying wine deliveries to Portland from Left Coast Cellars in Rickreall; visitors to Willamette Valley Vineyards in Turner dropping off natural corks, glass wine bottles and wine shipping boxes for recycling. And at Illahe Vineyards and Winery in Dallas — which has solar panels on the roof and rainwater collection systems hooked up to the gutters — harvest will be aided by horses and donkeys pulling grape-filled carts, biofueled by hay and creating compost as they go.
Oregon wineries meet challenge with gusto
Only a handful of wineries and vineyards around the world can claim to be carbon-neutral. Oregon is about to change that number dramatically. Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s office has recently joined forces with the Oregon Environmental Council and the Oregon Wine Board to develop the Carbon-Neutral Challenge, an initiative for Oregon vintners to go carbon-free.
So far, an astonishing 30 Oregon wineries have signed on, pledging to dramatically reduce emissions by practicing conservation and using alternative energy sources such as solar power and biofuels. The wineries will purchase carbon “credit” offsets only as a last resort. (This separates them from businesses that currently purchase carbon offsets as a marketing gimmick, without reducing their own carbon footprints in the least.)
Announced just a year ago, the program aims to achieve carbon neutrality in the first 30 wineries by early next spring. If successful, it will be a model for other wine regions all over the world as well as other industries within Oregon. To learn more, check out: www.oeconline.org/climate/climateneutralwineries.
Eco-friendly by design
Over the years, many Oregon wineries have been built from reclaimed materials or are housed in former barns or warehouses that have been repurposed. The next generation of wineries and tasting rooms is going one step further.
The Carlton Winemakers Studio and Sokol Blosser led the charge in green design back in 2002. The Studio, the first winery registered with the U.S. Green Building Council, makes ingenious use of the cheapest energy sources ever — sunlight and air — to illuminate and cool its facility. Sokol Blosser’s eco-roofed, underground barrel cellar was the first winery space in the U.S. to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.
Newer entries into the green-building club include solar-powered wineries such as LEED gold-certified Stoller in Dayton and Torii Mor (LEED certification pending) in Dundee. And visitors to Winderlea Vineyard and Winery’s solar-powered Dundee tasting room will soon be able to charge their electric cars in the parking lot.
Farming goes deep green
Today, 3,254 acres of Oregon vineyards are certified sustainable, with thousands more in line to achieve certification soon.
Of the many forms of green-farming being embraced by Oregon vintners, biodynamic agriculture is perhaps the most exciting and least understood. This holistic approach draws its methods from traditional agrarian societies. By treating the farm as a single, self-sufficient organism, practitioners of biodynamics preserve habitat, conserve water and make a negligible carbon footprint.
Where organic farming is reactive, biodynamic goes one step further by being proactive: An organic farmer might spray pests with a natural solvent, whereas a biodynamic farmer starts out by making his soil so healthy that it won’t attract pests to begin with.
Although it has a strong foothold in the fertile Willamette Valley, biodynamic viticulture also has spread throughout the state, from Cowhorn Vineyard and Garden in southern Oregon’s rugged Applegate Valley to the arid eastern Oregon vineyards of Cayuse just south of Walla Walla.
Biodynamics can be difficult and expensive to implement, but the practice is gaining popularity. Many oenophiles, believing that biodynamically produced wines have a unique purity of flavor, happily pay $80 for a Cayuse syrah or $60 for a pinot noir from the Willamette Valley’s Brick House Vineyards. And fans of top Burgundy producers of pinot noir drop hundreds of dollars for a single biodynamically produced bottle without batting an eye.
Stay tuned for a trickle-down effect as wine lovers begin to seek out produce that has been biodynamically farmed; the purple asparagus cultivated at Cowhorn already has been receiving raves from southern Oregon restaurant-goers.
New logo will make it easier to buy green
Last year, a study conducted by Full Glass Research in partnership with the Oregon Wine Board discovered that wine drinkers want to purchase sustainably produced wines but have trouble identifying them in the marketplace. In addition, “59 percent (of core wine consumers polled) agreed or strongly agreed that it takes regulation or certification to really guarantee good environmental practices,” says Christian Miller, author of the study.
Oregon has got sustainability certification nailed. LIVE, otherwise known as Low-Input Viticulture and Enology, was the first independent, third-party vineyard sustainability certification program in the world and has been copied by countless other wine regions.
Salem-based Oregon Tilth, which kick-started the American organic certification movement back in the early 1980s, now certifies organic products all over the world. And Philomath-based Demeter is the only certification agent for biodynamically farmed products in the United States.
There’s just one problem: So many different certification programs exist that consumers are easily confused. Even worse, accredited certifications such as LIVE, Salmon-Safe, organic and biodynamic vie for wine-shelf space with labels printed with unsubstantiated claims.
The Oregon Wine Board has addressed this issue with a new umbrella brand designed to cut through the confusion. Starting next year, look for a single logo depicting two intertwined rings and the words “Oregon Certified Sustainable” on the labels of wines that have achieved green certification from any accredited third-party environmental testing agency. “Environmentally conscious consumers can rest assured that any wine carrying this logo is made responsibly,” says Ted Farthing.
If the OCS logo is a hit with wine consumers, who knows? Perhaps we’ll see it in other sections of the grocery store in years to come.
It’s exciting that the Oregon wine industry is so proactively pursuing green ways of farming and doing business. But I forgot to mention one final reason to buy local wines: A lot of them are just plain delicious.
– Katherine Cole