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July 3, 2022

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Want more sustainable Washington wine? There will soon be a label for that

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A decades-long mission to tout sustainable practices in the Washington wine industry may soon come to fruition. When completed, consumers will be able to look for a Sustainable WA logo on bottles of red, white or otherwise.

A collaboration between the Washington Winegrowers Association, Washington Wine Industry Foundation and the Washington State Wine Commission, the Sustainable WA label would formalize longstanding sustainability practices in the state, said Katlyn Straub, communications specialist for the Winegrowers Association.

Though final metrics are still being worked out, grape growers hoping to receive the Sustainable WA certification will have to meet performance guidelines in nine different areas, including water management, pest management and even human resources such as labor practices, an increasingly common facet of agricultural certification programs, Straub said.

Though a grower would not need to receive perfect scores in every area, they would need to have a sufficient average score across various criteria to receive the Sustainable WA label.

For more than 20 years, Straub said, the Washington wine industry has realized that sustainability best practices were an aspect of the final product that growers and winemakers could “hang their hat on.” Industry groups developed two sustainability guides, VineWise and WineryWise, that taught growers how to meet best practices, she said.

“Washington’s always had this sustainable-by-nature tagline,” Straub said. “You can’t have an industry that’s been thriving 100-plus years that isn’t sustainable.”

But in recent years, the sustainability of wine has increasingly proven to be marketable, Straub said.

“Sustainability has been a buzzword for a while now, but intentional sustainability practices has become quite a topic within many (agricultural) industries, including the wine industry,” she said.

Data from Wine Intelligence, an industry analytics group, showed that consumers were increasingly demanding sustainability claims in the products they were drinking, she said, leading many in the state’s wine industry to push for a formalized certification program.

Dozens of professionals in the industry across various disciplines, from growers to marketers, began collaborating on this new program, and the industry raised around $200,000 to fund its launch. Sure Harvest, a California company that helped develop the VineWise and WineryWise programs, was contracted to create state-specific metrics for a Washington sustainability certification program.

“Washington is different from California and Oregon, and some of the programs out there don’t really fit for our growers,” Straub said. “They wanted a statewide program that allowed for intentionality and regional nuance.”

Unlike the informal VineWise and WineryWise programs, the Sustainable WA certification would require an independent audit of vineyards by third-party auditors every three years, Straub said, to verify that growers are meeting requirements.

After two years of development, the first certification program will soon be tested by six growers participating in a beta version looking at the certification metrics and providing additional feedback. At least one grower will be from the Walla Walla Valley, Straub said, and program managers are working to ensure the certification is obtainable across different regions and differently sized operations.

“We want to show that the program is affordable for all levels of growers,” she said.

This initial certification program will only be for grape growers, though industry groups eventually want to add a label for sustainable wineries, Straub said. For now, wine made from certified grapes will be able to use the Sustainable WA logo on their bottles.

Industry groups will continue to take feedback from growers as the certification program is finalized in the coming year, Straub said.

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