Neighborhood bee collectives. EV charging stations atop Mt. Hood. CSA farm shares offering so many beets you just have to pickle some. Oregonians may push the quirk factor, but we know a good thing when we see it—and we think this state, with its bountiful resources and beautiful scenery, is worth protecting. For us, being green isn’t about being trendy, it’s who we are. Oregon winemakers have demonstrated these qualities from the get-go, matching the joyful pursuit of great wine with a fierce commitment to the land.
The Oregon wine industry was born into a culture of sustainability, as the state of Oregon has had a longtime commitment to protecting the environment and preserving its natural resources. This commitment dates back to 1889, when state legislature enacted Oregon’s first environmental law: prohibiting pollution of waters used for domestic or livestock purposes. In 1966, Oregonians elected Tom McCall, an innovative governor who enacted key environmental legislation to protect Oregon’s environment and natural resources.
Oregon elected Tom McCall as governor.
Gov. 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.
Oregon passed the nation’s first Bottle Bill, implementing refunds on soft drink, beer and water containers reducing litter and increasing recycling.
Oregon Senate Bill 100 created an institutional structure for statewide urban planning. It required cities and counties to adopt comprehensive land-use plans and placed restrictions on urban sprawl into farmland.
During this period of sweeping environmental protection legislation, Oregon’s wine pioneers – including Richard Sommer, the Letts, the Ponzis, the Adelsheims, Dick Erath and the Sokol Blossers – began setting up shop in Oregon.
To the state’s early winemakers, 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.
Oregon Senate Bill 100
Perhaps one of the most significant milestones in the sustainability of the Oregon wine industry was Oregon Senate Bill 100. Signed into law by Governor McCall in May 1973, Oregon Senate Bill 100 created an institutional structure for statewide land-use planning. It required cities and counties to adopt comprehensive land-use plans and placed restrictions on urban sprawl into farmland.
The early winemakers of the Willamette Valley actively worked on the passage of Senate Bill 100 to preserve hillside properties not previously considered prime farmland, but which were ideal for the future development of vineyards. As a result, some of Willamette Valley’s most esteemed vineyard sites exist, sometimes very near to urban centers, without the threat of impending housing developments.
47% of Oregon’s vineyards are certified sustainable, the most of any major U.S. winegrowing region.
Future of Sustainability
From past to present, Oregon wine producers have been driven to capture the beauty and elegance of the Pacific Northwest in a glass of wine. This noble goal has resulted in a significant commitment by winemakers and grapegrowers to preserve the land for generations to come. To light the way in sustainable grapegrowing and winemaking, standards of the following agencies have been adopted:
Geographic Span: International
Established: Informally established in 1927, formally established in 1985
Philosophy: “Healing the planet through agriculture.” Demeter Certified Biodynamic vineyards look to not only “cause no harm,” but also to engage in practices that will help to heal the planet.
Practices: Developed in the 1920s based on the teachings of Dr. Rudolf Steiner – a noted German scientist, philosopher and founder of the Waldorf School – biodynamic practices aim to maintain farms as living organisms, not factories: self-contained and self-sustaining, responsible for creating and maintaining their own individual health and vitality.
Demeter Certified Biodynamic practices include but are not limited to:
Following Organic principles in the prohibition of synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides
Reducing fertility and pest control treatments made from materials off the premise
Dedicating of at least 10% of farm’s total acreage to biodiversity.
Using eight specific treatments, called preparations, comprised of medicinal plants, minerals and composted animal manures to help increase the vitality of the grapes grown and further anchor each individual farm in time and place
Note: Salmon-Safe requirements are embedded in Demeter certification standards.
Geographic Span: Regional: Oregon, Washington, California, British Columbia Established: 1995 Philosophy: “Transform land management practices so Pacific salmon can thrive in West Coast watersheds.” Practices: The Salmon-Safe certification was developed to protect the livelihood of salmon on the West Coast, however, salmon are a key indicator species in the Pacific Northwest. Their conservation is tightly intertwined with the health of the larger ecosystem. Compliance with Salmon-Safe certification standards is intended to promote landscape-level conservation and protection of biological diversity.
Salmon-Safe practices include but are not limited to:
Optimizing water use
Maintaining healthy river banks and in-stream habitat conditions
Using long-term soil conservation techniques
Exercising nutrient and pest management practices that protect water quality
Contributing to overall habitat quality and productivity on the farm
Note: LIVE and Demeter Certified Biodynamic have Salmon-Safe requirements embedded in their certification standards. Any vineyard or winery with these certifications is also certified Salmon-Safe.
Geographic Span: National Established: 1990 Philosophy: The federal National Organic Program (NOP) develops national standards for organically-produced agricultural products so consumers know products with the USDA Organic seal meet consistent, uniform standards. Practices: The USDA Organic regulations describe organic agriculture as the application of a set of cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that support the cycling of on-farm resources, promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity.
USDA Organic practices include but are not limited to:
Maintaining or enhancing soil and water quality
Using organic seeds and planting stocks
Conserving wetlands, woodlands and wildlife
Avoiding use of synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation and genetic engineering
Note: The NOP sets the USDA Organic certification standards but vineyards enlist a local certifying entity for inspection, such as Oregon Tilth. Not-for-profit Oregon Tilth is the third-largest USDA accredited organic certifier in the country.
Geographic Span: Regional: Oregon, Washington, Idaho, British Columbia Established: 1995 Philosophy: “Minimize environmental impacts, preserve agricultural fertility and sustain economic viability for generations to come.” Practices: LIVE takes a whole-farm and whole-winery approach to sustainability. The entire property, including non-grape crops, landscaping, building operations, labor practices and packaging must be managed by LIVE standards.
LIVE practices include but are not limited to:
Creating and maintaining a high level quality fruit production
Implementing practices that reduce reliance on synthetic chemicals and fertilizers
Encouraging responsible stewardship of the land, maintaining natural fertility and ecosystem stability
Promoting sustainable farming practices that maintain biological diversity in the whole farm
Maintaining high standards of worker health, safety and benefits
Note: Salmon-Safe requirements are embedded in LIVE certification standards.
Geographic Span: Willamette Valley Established: 2003 Philosophy: Grapes from non-irrigated vineyards produce authentic wines while conserving water. Practices: Wineries in the Deep Roots Coalition grow and source grapes exclusively from non-irrigated vineyards for conservation of agricultural water supplies as well as the authenticity of the resulting wine.
Deep Roots Coalition practices include but are not limited to:
Not growing or purchasing grapes from irrigated vineyards in the Willamette Valley.
Educating the public with regard to responsible water management practices and sustainable farming
Collecting data and anecdotes on irrigated versus non-irrigated vineyards in order to facilitate a rational discussion on the issue of water use
Producing wines with reduced yields and adhering to one of several low-impact viticultural programs: LIVE, Organic, Demeter Certified Biodynamic, Salmon-Safe, etc.