Sustainable Winegrowing: Lodi Makes the Case

If you’ve ever wondered about the difference between sustainable winegrowing and organic wine, you’re not alone. There are all kinds of labels out there to confuse us, from the familiar green and white “USDA Organic” sticker to phrases like “contains sulfites” or “made with organic grapes.”

For example, the United States and Europe have different definitions of organic wine: In the U.S., the addition of sulphur dioxide (SO2), also called sulfites, a preservative that can influence shelf life and taste, will prevent wines (even those made from organic grapes!) from bearing the coveted organic label. Meanwhile, in Europe and Canada, the addition of sulfites does not prohibit a wine from being labeled organic.

Sulfites are common in processed foods, and most people have no trouble ingesting them in moderation. However, we label them stateside because a small portion of the population can have dangerous reactions to them. Better safe than sorry, right?

 

So why use sulfites at all?

More often than not, winemakers prefer the use of sulfites as it provides more flexibility in terms of production, flavor and quality. Plus, winemakers have been using the stuff since Roman days.

Enter sustainable farming, an entirely different set of practices with goals specific to the environment and posterity.

 

Lodi Rules (in More Ways Than One)

Located near the Central Valley, the Lodi appellation is reminiscent of the Mediterranean, with cooling offshore breezes and moderate temperatures year-round. It’s here that we see sustainable ideas in practice at some of the area’s most progressive vineyards and wineries.

In fact, in 2004-2005, the Lodi Winegrape Commission created its own standards for sustainable farming in something they call the Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing. As California’s first third-party-certified sustainable-winegrowing program, the Lodi Rules aim to build transparency between growers, winemakers and consumers, and to ensure that sustainability claims are accurate. 

Before you jump on the organic wine bandwagon, let’s take a look at sustainable winegrowing and some of Lodi’s winemakers already implementing this vision.

 

What Is Sustainability?

According to the Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing, there are more than 100 sustainable farming practices that dig much deeper than avoiding pesticide.

Sustainability is a holistic approach to farming in which the habitat itself is considered in whole. After all, if the quality of the habitat is nourishing for all native species, it’s certainly capable of producing quality grapes.

For example, LangeTwins Winery and Vineyards has taken drastic steps toward habitat restoration throughout its vineyards. Back in 1995, they began reintegration of native plant species along the vineyard’s edges to help foster the wildlife in the area.

LangeTwins’ addition of nesting boxes for birds and owls is another example of sustainability that helps reduce the need for pesticide, as many native birds can help eliminate these pests naturally.

And what could be more natural than picking grapes by hand? Lodi’s Harney Lane Winery honors the Lodi Rules by handpicking all their own grapes, hand sorting them and fermenting each vintage in small batches.

Michael David Winery is another Lodi winery adhering to the Lodi Rules of Sustainable Winegrowing. For five generations the Phillips family has been farming Lodi soil. Today, all 750 acres of the family’s vineyard are third-party certified; all the fruit used in their wines are Lodi-grown and certified sustainable.

Sustainable practices also include air-quality control, land stewardship, soil fertility, water and energy management, and even human resources; broad strokes within the Lodi Rules that outline innovations to traditional winemaking techniques that benefit more than just the vineyards.

 

Benefits You Can Taste

For Acquiesce Winery, where attention to detail reigns, “acquiesce has become our mantra—to submit to nature, to yield to the vineyard, to acquiesce to the grapes so they present their own true character.” And they’re not blowing hot air. Wineries like Acquiesce are taking care to implement sustainable practices at every step of production, from ensuring proper soil nutrients to conservative irrigation systems.

Because when the environment is happy, the grapes are happy. And when the grapes are happy, you can taste it. I liken this to how we distinguish the quality of good cheeses or meat products, where the quality of the animal’s life plays heavily into the quality of the end products.

So when people say, “You can taste the difference,” they’re telling you the truth. And the truth has nothing to do with organic wine labels, or green trends, or bottom lines. Sustainability is about ensuring that future generations will have the opportunity to sample the same fine wines growing in this region we enjoy today.

 

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Whitney Butler

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