Sustainable Winegrowing In Oregon
Oregon has long been a leader in environmental stewardship. The home of the nation’s most protective land use policies, the first bottle recycling law, and the highest minimum wages for farm workers, is also home to a wine industry committed to sustainable farming and winemaking practices.
At latest count in 2016, there are 13,170 vineyard acres (about 48% of Oregon’s planted vineyard acreage) certified sustainably farmed by one of several independent third party certifying organizations. Many more acres are becoming certified, in a process that takes two to three years to complete. Many Oregon wineries are now taking the next step, pursuing certification of sustainable practices in their winemaking processes and facilities.
There are interesting differences among approaches to sustainable farming and winemaking practices embodied in the three major certification programs commonly found in Oregon vineyards: LIVE, Organic, and Biodynamic. But it is perhaps even more interesting to discover how much they are alike in their fundamental approach to farming and winemaking, how they all share a few basic principles:
- Consider the farm and winery as a whole system and take responsibility for the health and long term viability of the whole
- Encourage biodiversity and protect wildlife habitat on the farm
- Promote soil stability, health and fertility
- Respect natural processes, reducing or eliminating use of synthetic inputs in the vineyard and the winery
- Conserve natural resources, including water and energy, in both vineyard and winery
- Protect the health and well being of workers in the vineyard and the winery, and the larger community
Independent Third Party Certification
Independent third-party certification guarantees adherence to highest standards, helps to maintain our connection with world-wide networks of research and experience in sustainability, and gives us measurable criteria to evaluate our progress.
The Story of Oregon Wine Sustainability
When Oregon’s pioneering winegrowers envisioned planting grapes and making wine in the state’s fertile Willamette Valley, they had a vision that went beyond making world class Pinot noir. They saw something few others did. They saw one of the last great places on earth where the land had not been spoiled by chemicals and pesticides and other harmful agricultural practices.
They saw a modern day Garden of Eden where agriculture in general and viticulture in particular could flourish in harmony with the land and the people who lived there. As one of the last unspoiled places on earth, Oregon represented not just an ideal place for winegrowing. It represented a final frontier where winegrowers could practice their trade in a biologically diverse and ecologically balanced environment.
And, they made a promise to themselves and future generations: They would produce the highest quality wine possible, but they would do it in complete synergy with nature and place their responsibility as good stewards of the land they were given above all else.
Oregonians have a long, rich and pacesetting legacy of preserving the state’s pristine ecology. It’s not uncommon for Oregon’s environmental innovations to be preceded by “first in the nation” superlatives.
Much like the state where they chose to build a new industry a half century ago, Oregon’s wine pioneers not only came to Oregon to embrace this rich environmental heritage, but have played a major role in preserving and extending it with their own innovations and forward thinking practices.
Though it has grown into a substantial industry, Oregon winemaking has much more often been a true labor of love for those who have chosen to brave hardships to go where others insisted they couldn’t. And, they’ve done it with the kind of continual care and thoughtfulness rarely seen in the for-profit business world.
Oregon established its commitment to sustainable farming practices more than 100 years ago when the state legislature enacted the state’s first environmental law, prohibiting pollution of waters used for domestic or livestock purposes. In 1967 Gov. Tom McCall signed the Beach Bill, calling it “one of the most far reaching measures of its kind enacted by any legislative body in the nation.” The bill granted the public recreational rights to the dry sands of Oregon’s beaches all the way to the vegetation line. In 1971, Oregon passed the nation’s first Bottle Bill, requiring deposits on soft drink containers.
Signed into law in May 1973, Oregon Senate Bill 100 created an institutional structure for statewide land use planning. It required cities and counties to adopt comprehensive land-use plans and placed restrictions on the urban sprawl into farmland. Many of today’s prime vineyards are located on hillsides not originally considered prime farmland. The wine industry played a major role in preserving these properties for the future development of some of today’s grand cru vineyards and kept them from being zoned for residential housing and commercial development.
The commitment of early Oregon wine growers and producers is not coincidental to the overall environmental movement in the state happening at the same time. Oregon attracted people who wanted to live in a place that reflected their values as stewards of the land.
Oregon wine producers are driven by their desire to have their wine reflect a sense of place. This inherently requires that they be able to grow their grapes naturally – which is the key ingredient in making great wine that expresses the place it’s from. Winemaking in Oregon so often is about capturing the essence of the beauty and elegance of the state in a glass of wine.
Today, Oregon boasts the greatest commitment to sustainable farming of any wine region in the U.S. More than half of Oregon’s vineyards are farmed in a sustainable manner as certified by one of several independent organizations.
Oregon’s wine industry inherited a relatively intact ecosystem when it began in the 1960s and has worked hard to maintain this high level of pristineness. Members of the industry were instrumental in the creating the Low Input Viticulture and Enology (LIVE) certification. Today, LIVE is the leader in certifying not only vineyards, but wineries as well.
Oregon’s commitment to sustainable winegrowing is also a key factor in decisions on where to invest research funds. Many of those decisions have either led directly to alternative farming practices or have led to innovation in vineyard management techniques.
In addition, the industry has a continual focus on developing sustainability standards and practices in wine production, such as reducing the weight of wine packaging, reducing energy and water use, adopting new forms of alternative energy and building winemaking and storage facilities that meet and exceed carbon neutral standards.