What is sustainable?
Chris Figgins explains the burial canes on his Merlot vines at Figgins Estate.
The sustainable viticulture movement in Washington State took form in Walla Walla when industry members formed Vinea, a certification organization that defines itself as "a voluntary group of winegrowers that have embraced a covenant with environmental, economic, and social sustainability concurrent with their production of grapes and wine."
If that description still leaves you with a few questions, you're not alone. Definitions of sustainability, organics, and biodynamics are as plentiful as the growers embracing the "green" philosophy. At a panel discussion during the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers summer tour, Washington State University's Dr. Mercy Olmstead gave a nod to Wikipedia's definition of sustainability: "A process or state being maintained at a certain level indefinitely."
Most parties agree, however, that the notion of sustainable agriculture must embrace three components: ecologically sound farming practices, economic viability, and quality of life for farmers and the larger community. Organics and biodynamics (a more holistic approach to agriculture that focuses on lunar phases and other "earth forces") are often automatically rolled into discussions of sustainability. But organic doesn't necessarily equal sustainable. If a practice is too expensive to be profitable, it isn't sustainable.
Here are some resources that help guide growers as they work toward sustainability:
- VineWise (www.vinewise.org). A project of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers and the Washington Wine Industry Foundation, VineWise provides on-line resources and management tools addressing topics like business and marketing plans, contracts, crop insurance, human resources, and vineyard establishment. New topics include community neighbors, whole farm ecosystems and viticulture.
- Vinea (www.vineatrust.com). An organization of Walla Walla Valley vintners and growers, Vinea members follow standards that "employ environmentally friendly and socially responsible viticultural practices that respect the land; conserve natural resources; support biodiversity; exercise responsible relationships with workers, neighbors and the community; and provide continuing economic and biological vineyard viability." The group is revising its guidelines, based on standards of the IOBC and LIVE, to match the specific needs of the Walla Walla Valley.
- LIVE (www.liveinc.org) and IOBC (www.iobc.ch). LIVE, or Low Input Viticulture and Enology, certifies vineyards "using international standards of sustainable viticulture practices in wine grape production." It is the first American organization to be certified by the IOBC (International Organization for Biological and Integrated Control of Noxious Animals and Plants).