Oregon’s commitment to sustainability has deep roots
When Oregon's pioneering winegrowers envisioned planting grapes,
they were driven by a passion for making world class wines. But,
they also insisted that their pursuit of great wine be in harmony
with the land, that it respect the environment and that it reflect
the earth in which the grapes would grow.
As one of the diminishing, but still largely
unspoiled places on earth, Oregon represented not just an ideal
place for winegrowing, it represented a frontier where winegrowers
could practice their trade in a biologically diverse and
ecologically balanced way. They would produce the highest quality
wine possible, but they would do it in synergy with nature while
upholding their responsibility as stewards of the land.
Oregonians have a long, rich and pacesetting legacy of preserving
the state's pristine ecology. It's not uncommon for Oregon's environmental innovations to be preceded by
"first in the nation" superlatives.
Much like the state where they chose to build a new industry a
half century ago, Oregon's wine pioneers came to Oregon to plant
vineyards and make wine, but also to embrace this rich
environmental heritage. In so doing, they have written their
own chapter in preserving and extending this heritage with their
own innovations and practices.
Though it has grown into a major statewide industry, Oregon
winemaking has much more often been a true labor of love for those
who have chosen to brave hardships to go where others insisted they
couldn't. And, they've done it with the kind of continual care and
thoughtfulness rarely seen in the for-profit business world.
Oregon established its commitment to
sustainable farming practices more than 100 years ago when the
state legislature enacted the state's first environmental law,
prohibiting pollution of waters used for domestic or livestock
purposes. In 1967 Gov. Tom McCall signed the Beach Bill, calling it "one of the most far
reaching measures of its kind enacted by any legislative body in
the nation." The bill granted the public recreational rights to the
dry sands of Oregon's beaches all the way to the vegetation line.
In 1971, Oregon passed the nation's first Bottle Bill, requiring
deposits on soft drink containers.
Signed into law in May 1973, Oregon Senate Bill 100 created an institutional
structure for statewide planning. It required cities and counties
to adopt comprehensive land-use plans and placed restrictions on
the urban sprawl into farmland. Many of today's prime vineyards are
located on hillsides not originally considered prime farmland. The
wine industry played a major role in preserving these properties
for the future development of some of today's grand cru vineyards
and kept them from being zoned for residential housing and
The commitment of early, Oregon wine growers and
producers is not coincidental to the overall environmental movement
in the state happening at the same time. Oregon attracted people
who wanted to live in a place that reflected their values as
stewards of the land.
Oregon wine producers are driven by their desire to have their
wine reflect a sense of place. This inherently requires that they
be able to grow their grapes sustainably - which is the key
ingredient in making sure the wine that expresses the place in
which the grapes are grown. Winemaking in Oregon is much about
capturing the essence of the beauty and elegance of the state in a
glass of wine.
Today, Oregon boasts the greatest commitment to sustainable
farming of any wine region in the U.S. Nearly half - 47% - of
Oregon's vineyards are farmed in a sustainable manner as certified
by one of several independent organizations. This compares to only
12% of vineyards in California. Washington's wine industry doesn't
track sustainably farmed acreage.
Oregon's wine industry inherited a relatively intact ecosystem
when it began in the 1960s and has worked hard to maintain this
high level of pristineness. Members of the industry were
instrumental in the creating the Low Input Viticulture and Enology (LIVE)
certification. Today, LIVE is the leader in certifying not only
vineyards, but wineries as well.
Oregon's commitment to sustainable winegrowing is also a key
factor in decisions on where to invest research
funds. Many of those decisions have either led directly to
alternative farming practices or have led to innovation in vineyard
Oregon's grape and wine research efforts focus on three areas
that further sustainable farming and winemaking:
- Minimizing inputs into a farming operation and making the
inputs used the most efficient and environmentally neutral
- Minimizing outputs such as carbon, soil compaction and
- Maintaining an economically stable operation.
In addition, the industry maintains a continual focus on
developing sustainability standards and practices in wine
production, such as reducing the weight of wine packaging, reducing
energy and water consumption, adopting new forms of alternative
energy and building winemaking and storage facilities that meet and exceed carbon neutral standards.
View the total sustainably certified acres in
Oregon (May 2013).
Low Input Viticulture and Enology - LIVE
LIVE aims to preserve human and natural resources in the wine industry of the Pacific Northwest. We accomplish this through internationally-recognized third-party certification of collaborative science-based winegrowing standards of Integrated Production.
Demeter Certified Biodynamic®
In a word, biodynamic farming is rigorous. It means growing grapes and making wines completely free of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. A step further than organic, Biodynamic farming means managing the entire farm (or vineyard) as a living organism, with a high degree of self-sufficiency.
The Demeter Association is the world's leader of Biodynamic certification and awareness. It has a long history of promoting sustainability, dating back to 1928, when it was founded to support and promote the Biodynamic agricultural methods of Rudolf Steiner. The U.S. Demeter Association certified its first farm in 1982.
Oregon Tilth Certified Organic
Many of Oregon's wineries are certified organic through Oregon Tilth, which has been a leader in certification since 1974. Oregon Tilth is an internationally recognized organization of organic farmers, gardeners and consumers who are dedicated to biologically sound and socially equitable agriculture. Their goal is to educate people about the need to develop and use sustainable growing practices that promote soil health, conserve natural resources, and prevent environmental degradation while producing a clean and healthful food supply.
Founded in 1995 by an Oregon-based river and native fish protection organization, Salmon-Safe has become one of the nation's leading regional eco-labels. Erosion and runoff from hillside vineyards can bring silt into streams, reducing the ability of native salmon to survive. That's why Salmon-Safe has partnered with LIVE, VINEA, and Oregon Tilth to work with pioneering wine grape growers to protect Oregon's important salmon watersheds. Since first certifying vineyards in the Willamette Valley more than a decade ago, Salmon-Safe has certified 110 Oregon vineyards representing a third of Oregon's wine grape acreage. Look for the Salmon-Safe label on wine and you'll know that your purchase helps keep rivers clean so that salmon can spawn and thrive.
USDA's National Organic Program regulates the standards for any farm, wild crop harvesting, or handling operation that wants to sell an agricultural product as organically produced. U.S. producers are turning to certified organic farming systems as a potential way to lower input costs, decrease reliance on nonrenewable resources, capture high-value markets and premium prices, and boost farm income. Organic farming systems rely on ecologically based practices such as cultural and biological pest management, exclusion of all synthetic chemicals, antibiotics, and hormones in crop and livestock production.
Vinea, The Winegrowers' Sustainable Trust
The Winegrowers Sustainable Trust is a voluntary group of winegrowers who have embraced environmentally friendly and socially responsible viticultural practices. Their mission is to develop a sustainable vineyard management program that will be internationally recognized for its strict environmental standard and high quality farming practices.