Most wineries on the East End of Long Island like to talk about being “sustainable” in their vineyard practices and winemaking. There’s discussion about windmills and compost piles and this spray or that application, but let’s be honest, “sustainable” is a nebulous term… at least in the way they are using it, to denote a certain “green”-ness without formal biodynamic or organic certification. Those require strict adherence to defined rules over a set period of time.
“Sustainable” is a bit of a “green” grey area without any local definition or certification. It is a term that is decidedly open to interpretation. Because of that ambiguity, it is no doubt being abused by some wineries that want to cash in on the green movement without really acting as stewards for their land.
This weekend, on Earth Day as a matter of fact, the Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing, Inc. (LISW) will announce its formation and begin to bring some structure and clarity to “sustainability” in Long Island wine country.
LISW, a not-for-profit organization, will provide education and certification for Long Island vineyards and is the first sustainable vineyard certification program in the eastern United States.
According to the press release:
This effort provides further example of New York City’s local wine district raising the bar for eco-friendly farming practices and pioneering the union of viticultural science, world-class winemaking, and social responsibility.
As the 2012 vintage enters spring bud-break, LISW will begin the multi-year certification process for Long Island farm wineries using international standards of sustainable practices in quality wine-grape production that have been refined for Long Island. These sustainability guidelines use a checklist system consisting of recommended and prohibited practices and materials, thoughtful planning and numerous ecological options, as verified by independent third-party certifiers. All Long Island vineyard owners have been invited to join LISW to begin working on the transitional pathway toward the adoption of more sustainable practices and ultimate certification.
A core working group of leading Long Island wineries participated in the inception of LISW: Bedell Cellars, Channing Daughters Winery, Martha Clara Vineyards, and Shinn Estate Vineyards. These founding partners worked in conjunction with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County to write and codify specific sustainable grape growing guidelines for Long Island’s two AVAs: the North Fork of Long Island and The Hamptons, Long Island. The foundation of the program is the New York VineBalance Grower Self- Assessment Workbook, which acts as a roadmap for evaluating sustainable viticultural practices. Development of the VineBalance Workbook began in 2004 as a major cooperative effort led by Cornell University Cooperative Extension with funding from the New York Wine & Grape Foundation and New York Farm Viability Institute. The VineBalance Workbook is now recognized and endorsed by the Agricultural Environmental Management Program of the New York State Soil & Water Conservation Committee and New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets.
LISW recognizes that social responsibility complements the high quality winemaking and natural beauty already associated with the Long Island wine region. “We are eager to strengthen the ecological leadership and social responsibility of the Long Island wine region,” said Richard Olsen-Harbich, Winemaker at Bedell Cellars. “This effort has been an important process for Long Island wineries to demonstrate they are serious about making world-class wines that are also ecologically sensitive. New Yorkers should take pride knowing that the most sustainable and lowest carbon footprint wines are made right here in their own backyard, on the East End of Long Island.”
Long Island winegrowers are joining a small but expanding group of sustainable winegrowers who care about the environment. Oregon and California have similar programs but the Long Island ecosystem is particularly fragile due to its proximity to creeks and bays. “We farm land that is part of an important watershed and the Long Island sustainable standards will guide local viticulturists in returning to more natural methods of farming. Addressing our vineyards as living systems, setting aside biological compensation areas on the farm, and farming transparently and mindfully are key points to our standards,” said Barbara Shinn, Co-Owner and Viticulturist of Shinn Estate Vineyards. “Integrating science, personal farming knowledge and creative problem solving ultimately transforms outdated practices into ones that harmonize with our surrounding ecosystem. Protecting our creeks and bays and stewarding the health of our soils is our priority.”
LISW believes that wineries should work in harmony with the natural world to build a community between vineyards, workers and the land. “Creating a pathway and a process for dialogue ensures that we continuously improve our management strategies to maintain our clean water and air, a healthy workforce, healthy soils and healthy vines,” said Larry Perrine, CEO/Partner of Channing Daughters Winery. “We see the viability of our vineyards as being rooted in an integrated ecological system and we strive to develop viticultural practices that produce the highest quality fruit possible, while also being stewards of our land and economically viable over time.”
This initiative has a long history of development because many viticultural “best practices” have been finely tuned among the region’s grape growers for the past 35 years. “With a long history to guide us, Long Island vineyard managers have developed unique and safe practices for producing quality wine grapes and have endeavored to create a unique definition of sustainable viticulture,” said Jim Thompson, Vineyard Manager at Martha Clara Vineyards. “I believe these efforts will have a big impact on the public perception of our industry and the results so far have been very encouraging.”
Eco-savvy consumers have another choice they can make from a crowded wine marketplace – one that supports their local economy, the land and the people who grow their favorite wines. Interested consumers are encouraged to discover how deep sustainable growing practices have taken root on Long Island. A comprehensive list of sustainable farming guidelines and principles is available from LISW upon request, and complete up-to-date information can be found by following LISW on the internet (lisustainablewine.org — launching this weekend), Facebook (facebook.com/sustainablewinegrowing) and Twitter (twitter.com/liswinegrowing). The organization has pending 501(c)(3) not-for-profit status and the first certified sustainable Long Island wines will be available for sale in early 2013.
This is exciting news for the region. Though I work in marketing at my day job, I always favor transparency and reality over smoke and mirrors. I look forward to keeping tabs on the goings on and speaking with the growers LISW is working with this season.