It is important to know what is in our wine. We are reposting in case you missed it the first time. Thanks to Pam and her hard work…and for sharing. Has anything changed since this was written?
Here is an eye opening assessment report on the winegrowers ‘sustainability’ meeting by Pam Strayer, a leading specialist on organic and bio-dynamic wines.
Originally published: Organic Wines Uncorked
Thursday, January 12, 2017
Sonoma Winegrowers is trying hard to sound like it’s green, announcing for the third year in a row that it intends to be the first county in the U.S. to be certified sustainable. This year it says 60 percent – or 34,000 acres (out of 58,000) – of vineyard acreage in the county is now “certified sustainable.”
What impact is that having on farming practices? On the vineyards?
I think it’s a fair question to ask Sonoma’s sustainability program leadership if they will – adhering to their stated goals of being “socially responsible” and “environmentally conscientious” – be reducing the amount of toxic chemicals applied to vineyards in the county as part of their program.
Today, Sonoma’s growers use quite a few toxic substances for growing wine grapes. Sonoma is far less organic than its neighbors to the north (Mendocino, which is 24% organic) and to the east (Napa, where 7 percent of vines are certified organic). Fewer than 3 percent of Sonoma vines are eco-certified (by a legal standard) – organic or Biodynamic.
If you truly wanted to represent yourself as green, why wouldn’t the Sonoma Winegrowers also promote organic certification as a goal for its members?
Sustainability – What’s in a Name?
While everyone can appreciate efforts by wineries to use natural resources and energy more efficiently – and we do – too often sustainability is more visible in marketing programs than in the vines.
Wineries don’t really educate consumers on what sustainability really means. They are happy to provide information about using less water or energy, or their cover crops or bird boxes, but overall they leave the impression that they’re a lot greener than they are. Once when I was writing an article and interviewing retail clerks in wine stores, I asked a wine store clerk in Chicago what sustainable meant. Like a lot of people, he told me it was “like organic or something.”
He’s not alone. New 2015 data from Wine Intelligence, presented at the Oregon Vineyard Supply grower event in Jan. shows that 43 percent of consumers think “certified sustainable” wine means “organic grapes.”
In fact, one prominent winemaker once told me that he thought that the sustainability certification movement was built from the success of the organic movement. It’s an interesting thought, even though in wines, the organic people don’t talk very much about being organic in their marketing. (Yet another paradox.)
State and federal laws – that apply to all farmers – include some limitations on pesticides in water discharges, based on protecting fish and groundwater, and on maximum pesticide residue levels on fruits and vegetables.
So how well do the “certified sustainable” folks in Sonoma stack up on issues like pesticide use?
Bad Ole Boys: Sonoma Wine Grape Growers Lead the State in Mancozeb Use
The most surprising thing I discovered when I tallied up the chemicals of concern used on Sonoma’s vines was that Sonoma is the highest user – by far – of an old school, very toxic fungicide called Mancozeb, little used in the rest of the state.
Since 2004, Mancozeb’s use in wine grape vineyards has dropped 50 percent.
In 2004 wine grape growers used 25,577 pounds on 19,714 acres. In 2014, that figure declined to 12,284 pounds statewide over 8,079 acres in 2014.
Yet Sonoma growers account for full two thirds of the total Mancozeb used today on California wine grapes, applying 8,148 pounds on 5,246 acres in the county. Why?
Most of the Mancozeb used in Sonoma County is applied by a few growers and wineries who use Manzate, which is a fungicide that contains Mancozeb. Another product that’s used that contains Mancozeb is Dithane.
(*Vineyard management companies)
Note: These three wineries on the list of the top 5 are all “certified sustainable” by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance.
Almost all of the applications take place in April.
Scroll down the page until you come to “Grape, Wine.” You’ll then see a list of chemical names on the left and other data on the right.
Pesticide and health experts single out certain chemicals as being “chemicals of concern.” Here are some of the top chemicals of concern used by wine grape growers in Sonoma (2014 DPR data).
The accompanying maps show “summed pounds” for each area and represent only the chemicals used on wine grapes.
I’m listing these first in text so you can see an overview, and then again, in a second section below that, with both with text and maps. (Apologies for some formatting weirdness in the maps section – although I have used the same font and formatting, Google’s Blogger platform applies some odd spacing.)
8,054 pounds on 31,710 acres
|Growers use two different kinds of glyphosate. The more
commonly applied form is potassium salt, depicted in the map.
|This map shows the various chemicals classified as carcinogens.|
|This map shows neonicotinoids, a bird and bee toxin (banned in the EU currently)|
So when will consumers learn what it means to be “certified sustainable”? And how far will Sonoma Winegrowers go towards helping consumers understand the difference between organic and sustainable? I interviewed David Gates, the highly respected vineyard manager for both of Ridge Vineyards estates – including one in Sonoma and one in Cupertino – for an article in 2014 on the costs of getting certified organic, and in the course of that, I asked him why the winery went for the organic certification. His answer was that organic had clear standards, and “certified sustainable” programs did not.
“With sustainability, you can’t give a three sentence explanation of what sustainability is that means anything,” he said. “People trust you when you say you’re organic…I decided that it we were going to do this, I wanted us to be certified.”
So where’s the trust with “certified sustainable”? For those in the business who know, it creates more mistrust as trust. The organic people think it’s insulting to people’s intelligence. It’s a bet on consumer ignorance and confusion, which are never in short supply.
Most importantly, will Sonoma’s move toward “certified sustainable,” have an impact on the land? What will these maps look like over time? Will they change? Or will they stay the same? When will being “certified sustainable” mean more than green marketing?