Vintage and variety aren’t the only things consumers are searching a wine label for these days.
More than a third of drinkers consider a winemaker’s environmental impact before buying, according to a 2013 Wine Institute survey. Two-thirds of those drinkers look for sustainability logos on the bottle the survey found.
Despite advances, the global system is fragmented, so that consumers can’t easily discern a winemaker’s impact. No international body regulates the industry’s standards for what it means to be green. Instead, labels have a host of terms — organic, biodynamic and sustainable — that are more likely to confuse than inform potential customers.
“There is no unique standard to identify best sustainability activities,” Banfi owner Cristina Mariani-May, told Karma. Banfi, which makes wine at estates in Tuscany and Piedmont, Italy, has won an International Organization for Standardization award for its environmental outlook and produces its own sustainability report.
“Currently, investors make their decisions by visiting estates, talking to technicians or looking at reports,” she said.
Still, the global wine industry — forecast to grow nearly 6% a year to $423 billion by the end of 2023 — has made steps toward embracing sustainable environmental practices worldwide. In California, the Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance’s certification program has been embraced by vineyards, requiring growers to implement an action plan before third-party auditors check use of water, energy and nitrogen, as well as greenhouse gas emissions. About 1,800 vineyards, producers of 85% of California wine, have signed on to the program.
In New Zealand, vintners created an eco-friendly initiative in 1995, with its stamp requiring that 100% of fruit and winemaking practices are sustainable for accreditation. Under its latest report, 98% of winegrowing in the country is classed as sustainable, based on areas such as biodiversity, pest management and reducing by-products.
Even smaller wine-growing nations are moving to adopt standards.
“Sustainability is an increasingly important area for us across all areas of the industry,” Simon Robinson, chairman of Wines of Great Britain, told Karma. “We recognise that formulating and implementing agreed sustainability policies is important.”
The U.K. has created a working group to develop a sustainability scheme. Other countries or wine-growing regions, such as Bordeaux in France, have adopted ISO standards for environmental management.Yet for producers such as Banfi, any label is second to the company’s impact on its surroundings.
“Sustainability is in our DNA,” explains Mariani-May. “We established a process taking in three essential factors: each action must be socially fair, environmentally safe and economically feasible at the same time.”
Banfi, with about $69 million (€62 million) in annual sales, has introduced a handful of measures. These include flowrate irrigation, which cuts water use 80% and using lightweight bottles to save on raw materials and fuel during transport. It also cleans wastewater by passing it through a “bio bed” of plant materials.
“We’re the guardian of an incredible territory,” says Mariani-May. “Our commitment is to preserve and pass on to generations a territory that is even healthier, integral and alive.”