In The Wine World, It's Always Earth Day

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By Robert P. Farmer

earth.jpgWhen you're making wine, the term "earth day" has a different meaning than the one conjured up by what you see in the media at this time of year.  Because when the earth is your office, every day is earth day. So each April, when the focus turns globally to the single day we've set aside to call attention to the fragility and splendor of the Big Blue Marble (don't we really need more than one day for that?), it's worth pointing out the ways in which Wine Country--by that I mean wine-producing regions across the globe--have quietly led the charge to be earth-friendly.

The list these days of wineries that have gone or are going organic is as long as an Alaskan summer day. That's a good thing, by the way. But as the trend inches toward critical mass, it's still relevant to point out the trailblazing efforts the wine industry has blazed, and what that means to wine consumer and--more important--the environment overall.

There may be no better place to start than in Oregon, a state that was "green" both literally and figuratively long before it was cool to fight global warming. While the city of Portland continues to set benchmarks for environmentally conscious urban living, the state's wineries have also set standards for sustainability. Oregon wineries are subsequently as well known for their sustainable practices as they are for their pinot noirs. The state's efforts in this area have been purposeful and well organized.

The organization known as LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology), helps keep its (strictly volunteer) member wineries on target toward their sustainability goals and also provides much-needed standards and metrics.  LIVE provides guidelines to wine grape growers on everything from use of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, to harvesting techniques that mitigate topsoil erosion, to providing habitats for the native species on their farms. Each of the practices on the LIVE check-sheet are of course designed to keep the wine grower in harmony with his environment, while also crafting the best quality wines the wine maker knows how. Counting more than 150 wineries among its members, it's clear that LIVE, and organizations like it, are becoming the norm rather than the exception.

The practice is also alive and well in California--indeed most wine-growing regions have some sort of official-standards organization helping to make sustainable farming the commonly accepted practice. In Napa, 2008 got under way with the announcement by Napa Valley Vintners (the association of more than 300 Napa Valley wineries) that it would launch a new program called Napa Green Certified Winery (NGCW). With a stated goal of reducing the carbon footprint of its membership, and of instituting a set of green business practices for winery production in Napa County, NGCW will use a checklist for certification that has been in successful use for some time now by the Association of Bay Area Governments.

The checklist covers a vast array of sustainability efforts, from water and energy conservation to waste reduction and pollution prevention. Participating wineries must maintain compliance to retain their NGCW status and will be required to get recertified every three years. As with most such organizing efforts, one of the goals is to achieve success through shared resources and information. After all, a wine-producing region is only as green as its least-green winery. To that end, Napa Valley Vintners will feature regular workshops for its members that focus on current and emerging sustainable-farming trends, covering everything from how to reduce greenhouse gas emission to how to purchase environmentally preferable goods and services.

But in the end, all of these efforts must be shared with and accepted by the consumer. An educated consumer willing to reward green wineries for their efforts by purchasing their product is the final link in the evolutionary green chain. So it falls to the wine buyer to make the choices that support the wineries that support a better environment.  And ultimately, that is what events like Earth Day are all about. It's an attempt to remind people about the obvious - an annual prompt to reset our compasses to the morally correct setting and to do the right thing, the unselfish thing, and make whatever small effort we can to help make the world a better place for everybody forever. And if we can enjoy great glass of wine in the process, well, that's even better.

(For more information on the organizations mentioned above, visit www.liveinc.org and www.napavintners.com)

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