Whether you love buttery Chardonnays or velvety Pinot Noirs, a delicious glass of wine can be the perfect way to end the day. Clean wine is all the rage right now, but how do you know your wine aligns with your eco-friendly values?
Unfortunately, there are tons of confusing certifications, standards, and regional practices to wade through. It can be overwhelming to find a wine that you like to drink and is environmentally friendly.
What is Clean Wine?
Wine and the winemaking process have evolved over thousands of years. At this point, wine is a strictly regulated and high-quality product; almost all ingredients that go into wine are measured against specific quality and quantity standards.
Because of these regulations, most wine could be considered “clean.” Clean is a marketing buzzword that helps wine capture a part of the 52 billion dollar wellness industry.
Three Certification Categories to Look for on Your Favorite Bottle of Wine
Although “clean wine” is an unregulated marketing term, there are specific eco-friendly grape growing and winemaking processes that are clearly defined. All of these practices can be marketed as clean wine, but there are some specific certifications to look for.
The first certification category is organic. Organically grown grapes come from vineyards that follow standards set by the National Organic Program (NOP). Producers can only apply National Organic program materials to their grapes. Wines that use grapes from these vineyards usually have the words “made with organically grown grapes” on the label.
For a wine to have the word “organic” on the label, it must also free of sulfites. Sulfites are a naturally occurring microbial stabilizer in wine. Some people believe that sulfites cause common adverse reactions to wine, such as headaches, a red, flushed face, or insomnia.
Only 1% of the population is genuinely allergic to sulfites, though. If you’ve ever had an allergic reaction to dried fruit, which has up to 10 times the amount of sulfites as wine, you might be among this 1%. Histamines are the commonly accepted cause of adverse reactions to wine. They’re present in all fermented products. Some examples of fermented products: wine, tofu, ketchup, kimchi, tempeh, and aged meats.
Another type of “clean wine” certification to look for is biodynamic. Biodynamic grape growers try to balance the “resonance between vine, man, earth, and stars.” There is a calendar that biodynamic growers follow. It determines planting, pruning, and harvesting days and is based on the lunar cycle. These grapes are naturally organic because they avoid pesticides and use compost in place of chemical fertilizers.
It’s important to note that biodynamic wines are not technically vegan—vineyard preparations include stuffing animal horns with compost, steeping them, and using the resulting “tea” to fertilize the soil.
Lastly, we have sustainable wine certifications. Of the three types, sustainable winemaking is the most holistic option. It focuses on energy efficiency and water conservation.
There are lots of certifications for sustainable wines, and most of them are regional. SIP Certified and Certified Green (the Lodi Rules) are two California-based certifications for sustainable wines, while Salmon-Safe and LIVE certify wines from the Pacific Northwest.
Another California-based certification for sustainable wines is the Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing label. Allison Jordan, the Executive Director of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, says that the certification measures “everything, again, from soil management, energy, and water use efficiency, neighbors and community, [to] sustainable purchasing.”
Regardless of what certification is on the bottle, you should know that it wasn’t easy for the winegrower or winemaker to receive it. Certification processes are usually very stringent and require an annual third-party audit. That’s why it is so expensive to get these certifications!
Because of the cost, some wine producers follow all the rules without paying for the certification. They might market their wine as clean wine, so be sure to ask questions to find out about their sustainability initiatives.
Questions to Ask When You Go Wine Tasting
If you want to know more about the wine you drink, Allison says that the best thing you can do is “visit a winery and go wine tasting. I would just encourage people to ask questions and do tours. A lot of wineries now offer eco-tours, and you can really get an understanding of what’s going on out in the vineyard and often have a glass of wine in your hand while you’re doing the educational part of it.”
- What are your winery’s sustainable practices?
- Do you hold any sustainable, organic, or biodynamic certifications?
- How do you incorporate sustainability into your grape growing, harvesting, and winemaking?
Resources We Mentioned
- California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance
- Discover California Wines’ interactive winery directory (choose “Sustainable/Organic/Biodynamic” under the Amenities drop-down menu)
- Oregon’s Willamette Valley Wine directory (click on “Certifications and Philosophy” on the left-hand side)
- Washington wineries that are LIVE certified
- Guide to organic, sustainable, and biodynamic wine certifications from Wine Folly
- How to Sip Sustainably
- What is Sustainable Wine?