You’re probably in the habit of looking for organic labels when shopping for groceries. When picking up a bottle of wine, don’t forget similar ecolabels help you identify responsibly made wines that taste better, are better for you, and better for the planet.
Eco-certifications guarantee the producer meets a set of criteria of sustainable practices. Each certification follows different standards. Ecolabels can emphasize a sustainable supply chain, ethical human labor conditions, or environmentally-friendly viticulture.
According to IWSR, the demand for certified organic and biodynamic wines is set to grow from 2.7% in 2020 to 3.4% by 2022. These wines represent rigorous certification processes that require more time, expertise and investment from producers. It’s the commitment to sustainability and responsibly made wines from these winemakers that attracts wine consumers worldwide.
An ecolabel can be issued by a government or another third-party organization. They’re often small and hidden on the back of the bottle, and can tell you a lot about the wine. Here’s a guide to decrypt some of the most prominent ecolabels found on wines so you can know what to expect when you open a certified wine.
Because of its rigorous certification process, Demeter is the holy grail in ecolabel certification.
Demeter International was founded in 1928 using Rudolf Steiner’s framework for biodynamics to create the first certification for organic foods. The name is an homage to the Greek goddess of fertility and grain, Demeter. Biodynamic certification is rigorous and requires annual renewal. Biodynamic farms don’t use synthetic chemical pesticides or fertilizers and opt for natural solutions to manage pest control and soil fertility. Farmers are also required to dedicate a minimum of 10% of acreage to biodiversity.
Biodynamic treatments include a mix of fermented cow manure, compost and various herbal sprays to enhance soil fertility and prevent disease.
With a Demeter Biodynamic certified wine, you can count on drinking a wine made very responsibly following stringent guidelines, with virtually no synthetic inputs to the land. Sulfites may still be added for preservation, but in doses usually less than conventional winemaking. Winemakers may also use a natural alternative such as volcanic sulfur. Biodynamics is not an easy endeavor and is costly. As of 2018, there were 616 biodynamic wineries worldwide certified by Demeter. Approximately 4.5% of the world’s vineyards are either biodynamic or organic.
The Fairtrade Foundation created a label to let you know the people involved in producing your goods are treated ethically and paid fairly. While it’s not the most common ecolabel for wine, it does exist. Fairtrade certification is more commonly used for products like coffees, teas and chocolate produced in developing world regions such as Africa, Asia and South America, where workers’ rights are less regulated.
Founded in 1995 by a group of winemakers in Alsace, Biodyvin is another certification for biodynamic practices. It now includes 150 growers across France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland. Growers are certified by a third-party inspector, Ecocert Sas France. Biodyvin is more a membership in a community of like-minded biodynamic winemakers, and producers may already have certifications from another agency such as Demeter.
European Union Organic
EU organic is similar to its U.S. counterpart, USDA Organic. Criteria completely prohibit using GMOs, as well as hormones and antibiotics unless required for animal health. Limits are set for artificial fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Farms undergo a three-year conversion process before earning the EU organic label. In organic wine, the grapes and the yeast must be certified organic, whereas the entire farming operation must be organic for biodynamic certification. Sulfite levels typically must be lower than in conventional wine.
Agriculture Biologique “AB”
Individual member states in the European Union have their own national organic certification, indicating the product was made in that country. A country’s own label, such as France’s Agriculture Biologique (AB) certification, must also fulfill the EU organic criteria.
The USDA Organic certification mainly regulates “allowed and prohibited substances” and prohibits the use of GMOs. Synthetic chemicals are banned, unless explicitly stated. Some ingredients such as copper, newspaper and sulfates are still allowed in the soil. A full list of permitted chemicals can be found here. The finished wine can only contain less than 100 ppm of sulfur dioxide (a common type of sulfite). Any yeast added during the winemaking process must be organic.
Like EU Organic, there’s a three-year conversion phase where no prohibited substances can be used. Both the grape cultivation and winemaking process must be certified organic. You can generally expect a USDA Organic certified wine to be made responsibly, containing no GMOs, very few synthetic additives, and using sustainable farming practices in the vineyard.
LIVE – Low Input Viticulture & Enology
The LIVE certification is most common in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, where it was established in 1999. The organization prides itself on being both an environmentally and socially responsible certification. There are only 38 wine producers with the LIVE certification. Criteria for certification range from energy use and greenhouse gas reduction, water and waste management, to materials sourcing. It follows environmental regulations set by the International Organization for the Biological and Integrated Control of Noxious Animals and Plants. LIVE certification is a third-party private certification, independent of any government association.
SIP Certified (Sustainability in Practice)
The SIP certification is based on the philosophy of the three P’s of sustainability: People, Planet, and Prosperity. The certification currently exists only in the U.S. and is found primarily in California wine. There are 43,600 acres of SIP certified vineyards and 43 million bottles produced with this label. SIP’s strict framework includes standards and holistic practices addressing sustainability of habitat, water, energy, soil, recycling, air quality, packaging, pest management, social equity and business management.
This is not the most popular or trendy certification for winemakers, but vegan certified wines do exist. The main qualification is the juices or added sugars are not filtered, defoamed or clarified with animal products. It’s funny to think that wine, a product made from grape juice, couldn’t be vegan. But animal byproducts are sometimes used during the filtering and fining processes. Some of these byproducts include blood and bone marrow, milk proteins, fish proteins, shell-food fibers, egg byproducts, fish oil and gelatin. The BevVeg logo is the leading certification in distinguishing wines that have no trace animal byproducts. In Europe, its vegan certification counterpart is the European Vegetarian Union.
These are just some of the major ecolabels that exist worldwide to indicate a variety of sustainable environmental practices and fair working conditions.
All wines on VIVANT are either certified organic or biodynamic, or are made using sustainable practices. Producers featured in our experiences sign the VIVANT pledge, affirming they follow sustainable practices to make wine with respect for the consumer and for the environment.
To learn more about sustainable farming practices mentioned here, check out our post on going beyond sustainability.