Oregon's Umbrella for Sustainability

State wine board launching logo for wines certified by one of four agencies

by Kate Lavin
Oregon Sustainability
Oregon Wine Board executive director Ted Farthing speaks at a news conference Tuesday in San Francisco prior to the Discover Oregon Wines event. Other presenters included (from left to right) Christian Miller of Full Glass Research, Moe Momtazi of Maysara Winery, Kevin Chambers of Resonance Vineyard and Harry Peterson-Nedry of Chehalem.
San Francisco -- Oregon wineries were the first to "belly up to the bar" when the state's governor asked companies to reduce carbon emissions and minimize their environmental footprints, according to Harry Peterson-Nedry, founder of Newberg, Ore.-based Chehalem. So it's no surprise that an Oregon wine industry group is the first in the nation actively seeking to create an umbrella platform and certification logo for vineyards and wineries identified as sustainable, organic and biodynamic.

A handful of winery owners who are active in the state's sustainability movement joined Ted Farthing, executive director of the Oregon Wine Board, in San Francisco on Tuesday when he gave a sneak peak of the organization's plan to offer umbrella certification to state wineries currently practicing sustainable grapegrowing and winemaking.

"This has not been done in the wine industry before, but it's not unlike Florida oranges," Farthing said, referencing the campaign that made the Sunshine State synonymous with its citrus crop.

By the wine board's latest estimate, Farthing told Wines & Vines, 26% of Oregon's planted acreage is certified sustainable, and branding such wines Oregon Certified Sustainable (OCS) will help draw attention to the state's wines and, in particular, its green vineyards and wineries.

Currently there are four groups that certify the sustainability practices of Oregon wineries:
  • Low Input Viticulture & Enology (LIVE)
  • Salmon Safe
  • Oregon Tilth Certified Organic
  • Demeter Certified Biodynamic
Each group has a different set of standards that members must meet in order to qualify and use their logo. But according to Farthing and other state wine industry officials, consumers don't know what the certifications mean nor what differentiates them.

"A lot of people don't use existing certifications (logos) on their wines, because there's a low awareness of what they mean. Consumers might be interested, yet confused," Farthing said regarding consumer knowledge of the differences among sustainable, organic and biodynamic. He added that when describing a certification program, most members dive straight into the details. OCS--the umbrella logo--allows consumers to leapfrog over those details, simplifying an uncommonly complex issue by focusing on the common ground: responsible growing, responsible winemaking and third-party certification.

Certification by an objective third party is crucial to success, Chehalem's Peterson-Nedry said. "Regulation and certification carry weight with the enlightened consumer," he said--proof that the winemaker is indeed adhering to certain standards.

Still, the ever-increasing number of certification groups and logos don't always sit well with consumers inundated by green jargon. Christian Miller of Full Glass Research said there has been backlash against the term "organic," because some consumers don't have a real understanding of what it means and others have bought products marked organic only to learn that farmers were using pesticides and other inorganic farming processes.

The value of the OCS platform, proponents said, is that it would increase awareness of all sustainability programs and promote Oregon wines at the same time. The Oregon Wine Board currently is working with the TTB to get approval for an OCS label designation.

The program will start small in its first year, which begins at harvest 2008. Several grapegrowers and winemakers have expressed interest already, Farthing said, and the board hopes to enlist 30 businesses for the 2008 vintage.

Yet some green Oregon wineries, including certified Biodynamic Maysara Winery in the McMinnville AVA, are holding back when it comes to jumping feet-first into OCS. Moe Momtazi, founder of Maysara, already puts the Demeter logo on bottles of his Yamhill County wines. Now he worries that adding another logo to the mix would further confuse some already overwhelmed consumers. Momtazi said he hopes that the wine board secures funding from the government to press forward with the OCS movement, creating awareness about sustainable practices so that the logo becomes recognizable to buyers.

The board aims to set the standard for OCS in the wine industry, but there is a reason the Oregon Certified Sustainable name isn't specific to wine. Producers in Oregon and beyond have expressed interest in the OCS platform, and not all of them are in the wine business. Kevin Chambers of Resonance Vineyard, a Biodynamic-certified farm in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, said many of the state's nursery farmers have come forward wanting to join the movement in Oregon, where crops of blackberries, and hazelnuts generate millions of dollars each year.

"We need to get it right for Oregon grapes and wine first," Farthing said, "but the confusion isn't unique to wine."

For more information on the Oregon Certified Sustainable platform and logo, visit the Oregon Wine Board, oregonwine.org.
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