If you’re looking to take your wine rack “green,” you’ll be pleased that there are more wines than ever using environmentally friendly practices. To determine a winery’s level of “green,” there are a number of factors to consider. Here is what you need to know…

> What makes a wine organic? The USDA National Organic Program defines a USDA organic wine as one “made from organically grown grapes without any added sulfites.”  The term “organically grown” indicates that no chemicals or pesticides are used in the vineyard. Sulfites are a byproduct of fermentation, but they are often added to wines before bottling due to their natural preservative qualities.
Just to confuse things even further, the USDA requires any wine with more than 10 parts per million of sulfites (virtually all wines) to add the warning “Contains Sulfites” for people who are allergic. So even USDA-certified organic wines will have this on the label. 

> What does “made with organically grown grapes” mean? Many winemakers use a second designation on the bottle stating that the wine was “made with organically grown grapes.”  The only difference between this category and the USDA organic designation is that the winemaker can use a small amount of added sulfites. This slight addition of sulfites allows the wine-maker to ensure the wine will not prematurely fade and will last longer on the shelf. Most of the “green” wines you find from California and South America fall into this category.

> What are biodynamics and sustainability? Biodynamic methods are based on an all-natural and spiritual approach to agriculture. The goal is to make a winery totally self-sustainable by using the land and its resources to farm and ward off pests. In addition, it suggests that by following the rhythms of the land (sun, moon, etc.) you can create a wine that is an expression of its origin.
Wineries that focus on sustainability also take a holistic approach to being green. All activities and practices are evaluated with the goal being to make minimal impact on the environment. Things considered include energy usage, packaging, recycling, water usage, pollution and employee welfare.

> How do I find green wines in my local shop? It’s not always easy to find “green” wines, and many that are made organically are not labeled as such.  Some stores like The Wine Bin in Ellicott City are making the process easier by specifically identifying wines with an organic focus by adding a ladybug sticker on the shelf tag. Dave Carney, owner of The Wine Bin cautions wine lovers to look at the big picture. “Organic agriculture is just one aspect of being green, but a winery’s usage of energy, tractors that cause fuel emissions and packaging are also part of the entire carbon footprint a winery makes. Try to look at the big picture when you are looking to make your wine drinking more eco-friendly.” —Laurie Forster

Laurie Forster, The Wine Coach®, is a wine educator who creates corporate events, group tastings and team-building seminars. She is the author of “The Sipping Point: A Crash Course in Wine,” and can be heard each week on WBAL Radio 1090AM. Visit

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