What Is Sustainable Winemaking?


cover crop

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Ask a winemaker what it takes to make a good wine, and she’ll probably say, “It all starts in the vineyard.”

It’s true for wine quality, and it’s true for sustainable winemaking too.

Sustainability might seem like a fuzzier concept than organics or biodynamics – terms we explored in some depth in an earlier post. But the truth is, a wide range of wineries, whether they dot the I’s and cross the T’s for a fancy certification, are working hard to respect the land and the people who work it, and meet the demands of the environmentally aware consumers who enjoy their products.

For wineries like Protea, sustainability is built on a foundation of being proactive and attentive in the vineyard in order to nurture a healthy ecosystem that will help ensure long-term wholistic success. Here are some of the practices employed to make this happen.

Engage in a Coverup

Instead of nuking the life out of the space between the vine rows, cover crops are grown. One benefit of cover crops – as seen in the picture at top – is that they can attract beneficial insects like ladybugs and lacewings, who will feast on potential pests. That means less use of pesticides.

But cover crops can do more than that. They can also help control erosion on sloping vineyards (which are often prized for high-quality grapes), and when plowed under, can replenish soil nutrient levels.

Nurture Nature

Alongside and outside the vineyard, sustainable wineries work to maintain or rehabilitate natural vegetation, animal life and biodiversity. If you visit a sustainably farmed vineyard, you might very well notice owl boxes; owls on site can be an inexpensive, earth-friendly form of rodent control.

Other vineyards are making themselves amenable to insect-loving bats. Some have had success with bat boxes, but most have found that bats need natural habitats to flourish. Riparian vegetation and native trees can be just the ticket.

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Keep the Tractor in the Barn

There’s nothing that connotes farming more than the sight of a tractor slowing working its way through a field, whether it’s a big spread of corn or a vineyard. But tractor trips can take their toll, compacting the soil and consuming expensive diesel, which of course leads to more pollution output and a higher carbon footprint.

Interestingly, some sustainability advocates argue that by carefully using highly effective, targeted pesticides, when necessary, they can actually decrease their interventions in the vineyard, compared to organic growers whose non-synthetic applications can require more persistence and might not be as targeted to a specific task.

Be Wise About Water

One thing that can make a place great for growing grapes is several months of relatively dry, sunny weather. Those same qualities, however, can also leave water in short supply.

To be more sustainable with their water use, many grape growers have turned to technology. Sensors, for instance, can deliver data on vine transpiration, helping the grower to be more judicious with water use. Many growers have also found that shifting when they water – generally, using much less early in the season and a little more later – can not only dramatically reduce water usage, but also increase wine quality.

Waste Not

Many of us are composting at home, either through local collection programs or in our own gardens. So it’s no surprise that sustainable wineries turn all kinds of biodegradable waste – from their cellars (the discarded grape skins and seeds, for example), winery restaurants, etc. – into “food” for their soils. Others might have farm animals that can provide excellent compost, or they contract with local farmers.

Of course, Protea tries to take sustainability from the vineyard all the way through to the product packaging, making a bottle that is so beautiful, you’ll be inspired to find another use for it.  Click on the links below to read some of the cool things you can do with your Protea bottle!

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