Category Archives: Going Green

Going Green: Labeling Organic Wine

Labeling of wine is subject to regulation by the TTB, and requires a certificate of label approval (COLA). Basic information that must be included on all labels include the brand name, class or type of wine, alcohol content, appellation, the bottler’s name and address, contents by volume, a sulfite declaration, and the government health warning. Previously, Uncorked ran a post about font and sizing requirements, accessible here.

If you want include “organic” claims on your label, you must satisfy USDA organic regulations for production and handling of your wine. Those requirements are beyond the scope of this post, but suffice it to say they are extensive. And, the type of “organic” claims you can make on your label are dependent upon a few key factors.

To label your wine “Organic” and to use the USDA Organic seal on your label, your wine-making operations must be overseen by a third-party accredited certifying agent (ACA) to ensure compliance with organic production and handling requirements. The yeast used in your wine, and all agricultural ingredients (i.e., grapes) must be certified organic, with the exception of those ingredients on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, information about which can be found here. Non-agricultural ingredients must be on the National List, and are limited to a certain percentage of the total product. Finally, only naturally occurring sulfites are allowed in wines with an “Organic” label. If you want to include a statement on the label that your wine contains only naturally occurring sulfites, you will need a lab analysis to back that up.

Wines with added sulfites (up to 100 ppm of sulfur dioxide) may not be labeled “Organic” or use the USDA Organic seal, but they may be labeled as “Made with Organic Grapes.” Only the grapes must be certified organic, the remaining agricultural ingredients need not be.

Labels for both “Organic” and “Made with Organic Grapes” must include the name of the certifier/ACA: “Certified organic by ***.”

If your wine doesn’t meet the criteria for “Organic” or “Made with Organic Grapes” labeling, you may still be able to list certain  ingredients as organic, but will have to submit proof of certification for each ingredient with your COLA application.

Setting your wine apart from the crowd with an organic label is great marketing. Just make sure you are current on USDA and TTB regulations before you send those labels to print!

Going Green: Sustainability Certification in California

A few weeks ago, Aerin and I attended the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento. One of the seminars I attended dealt with sustainability, a topic that seems to be popping up with increasing frequency in the wine industry.

Sustainability is an interesting concept, primarily because it lacks any single definition or set of criteria. And, when it comes to certifying your wine as “sustainable” there are several programs to choose from. Wineries need to do their research to uncover the criteria for each certification program, and evaluate which program best fits their current practices and goals for sustainability.

One of California’s main sustainability programs is the California Sustainable Winegrowing Program. It advances and provides resources for practices that are “environmentally sound, socially equitable, and economically viable.” Its certification program – Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CCSW Certified) – provides third-party verification of a winery’s implementation and ongoing improvement of nearly 200 sustainability practices/criteria drawn from a publication called the “California Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Workbook,” which is available for free to California vintners and winegrowers here. According to its literature and website, CCSW emphasizes conservation of water and energy, soil health, protection of air and water quality, employee/community relations, and the preservation of local ecosystems and wildlife habitat.

Another third-party certified sustainable winegrowing program is Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing Certified Green. According to its website, the Lodi Rules take “a comprehensive approach to farming that goes beyond just pest management to promote practices that enhance biodiversity, water and air quality, soil health, and employee and community well-being.” A fact sheet can be found here, which summarizes the Lodi Rules’ standards for Certified Green. The program does not restrict its certification to wines from the Lodi Appellation; in 2012 about 1/5 of its certified acreage was outside the Lodi region.

Napa County vintners and winegrowers have their own local certification program: Napa Green. Napa Green describes itself as the wine industry’s “most comprehensive ‘best practices’ program for land use and wine production.” Two certifications are available: Napa Green Certified Land, and Napa Green Certified Winery. The Land Certification seeks to protect and preserve the Napa watershed, and involves creating a plan unique to each landowner’s property that emphasizes wildlife habitat, protection of riparian environments, and sustainable agricultural practices. The Winery Certification emphasizes the conservation of water and energy, prevention of pollution, and reduction of waste.

Yet another statewide program out is Sustainability in Practice, or SIP Certified. This program focuses on habitat and water conservation, energy efficiency, pest management, economic stability, and human resources.  According to its website, SIP Certified wines reflect the implementation of sustainability practices that are broader and more comprehensive than even USDA Organic standards. A link to SIP Certified frequently asked questions can be found here.

All of these programs are based on the fundamental premise that ultimately, sustainable practices are not only good for the environment, but good for business as well. After all, the wine industry is heavily dependent upon both natural and human resources, so it only makes sense that business practices emphasizing the protection and health of those resources will ultimately contribute to the industry’s continued vitality and growth.

Room for improvement may lie in the specificity of information available to the consumer about sustainability certification. Certainly consumers find value in knowing which wines are “certified” sustainable, but at present they have no easy way to differentiate between the various certifications they may find on the labels. Do they want that information? Or is it enough to simply know the product has been through some form of certification process? I suppose time and the market will tell. Meanwhile, wineries interested in letting their consumers know more specifics always have the option of describing their sustainability practices where the consumer can’t miss them: right on the label itself. Of course, don’t forget to check the regulations governing labeling before you do – particularly those prohibiting any statements that could be considered misleading. That’s a topic for another day.

Going Green: Wine on Tap

A couple of months ago, I attended a “Wine Law Forum” put on by the CEB in Yountville, just north of Napa. It was a great day and a half, with seminars on a wide range of timely topics, from buying a winery, to pouring wines in alternative locations, to water regulation issues, to the legalization of recreational marijuana, which could be coming to California in the near future. One seminar that I found particularly interesting concerned alternative types of wine packaging. Specific alternatives discussed? Refillable growlers (which I’ll address in a later post), and wine on tap.

Wine on tap? That’s right – wine on tap – straight out of a stainless steel keg. Talk about alternative! Granted, it’s not hard to be “alternative” in an industry where bottle and cork are steeped in tradition, and constitute what many consider to be an integral part of the wine experience. Nevertheless, by the end of the seminar, I was convinced that wine on tap is an inevitable and exciting development in wine packaging. As consumers become more and more insistent on sustainable practices, and producers more and more concerned about efficiency, cost, and increasing competition, wine on tap has something for everyone.

Stainless steel kegs are impermeable to oxidation and can keep wine fresh for up to three months after they are tapped (six months untapped). For any restaurant or bar or tasting room that serves wine by the glass, that means less wasted wine. No one wants to serve their customer a glass from a bottle that was opened two days ago, and with wine on tap, you don’t have to. And, because the kegs are reusable, it also means less landfill waste. According to Free Flow Wines, a company that provides kegging and logistics services for wineries (and whose founder led the seminar I attended), the use of stainless steel kegs has saved over 2.5 million bottles from the landfill since 2011. That’s a lot. Less bottles in the landfill means less bottles and corks that producers need to buy on the front end. I’m guessing that can translate into quite a savings.

Of course, given the complexity of the regulations governing the wine industry, wine on tap is not without its challenges. With every state having its own regulations on matters ranging from fill volumes to labeling, developing a navigable system for the distribution of wine on tap is a work in progress. But in progress it is.

All in all, as a (relatively) “younger” wine consumer, I thought wine on tap hit all the right notes for a demographic of wine drinkers that are not only keenly aware of and interested in sustainable practices, but are willing to insist on such practices with their pocketbooks.