Eco-Friendly Wine: Oregon vs. Washington
A few Sundays ago in The Seattle Times, Paul Gregutt had a column entitled, "Eco-friendly is market smart", which highlighted some of the sustainable practices used in vineyards and wineries around Washington state. While Gregutt showcased a handful of Washington producers (and even one from California), nary a mention was made of what the Oregon wine industry is doing in this area.
This got me thinking about the respective approaches Oregon and Washington are taking in producing eco-friendly wine. When multiple searches for relevant stats came up dry, I embarked on a quest to identify the vineyards and wineries in Oregon and Washington that had been certified for practicing some form of eco-friendly grape growing and/or winemaking. The results from this analysis were striking.
My first stop in this investigation was to visit the Oregon Wine Board (OWB) web site. The OWB devotes an entire section of its site to sustainability, highlighting the organizations responsible for certifying 34% of Oregon's vineyards as sustainable, organic and/or biodynamic. It offers useful links to each organization along with a fact sheet detailing acreage certified for sustainable farming practices.
In contrast, the Washington Wine Commission (WWC) site uses the term "sustainable" several times in its "The Perfect Classroom" section, which covers the state's weather, earth, vines and grape growers. This web page includes the proclamation, "Today, Washington State is among the leaders in sustainable viticultural techniques in the world." Unfortunately, after searching the WWC site, I was unable to find any facts or figures to support this positioning statement.
To accurately identify how many certified vineyards and wineries exist in Oregon and Washington, my next stop involved visiting the sites behind Low Input Viticulture & Enology, Salmon-Safe, Oregon Tilth, and Demeter® USA sites. Each of these organizations is responsible for certifying vineyards and wineries for either sustainable, organic or biodynamic practices. Fortunately, a list of certified farmers and producers is available on each site, which is how the following statistics were collected and analyzed.
In Oregon, 170 vineyards have been certified by LIVE, Salmon-Safe, Tilth Organic and/or Demeter® Biodynamic while only 23 of Washington's vineyards have received any similar designation. Many of the certified Washington vineyards are located in the Walla Walla Valley, an area where both WA and OR winegrowers have jointly established a volunteer organization called the VINEA Trust, which promotes sustainable farming.
Amongst wineries, 50 producers in Oregon are certified in some way with only 22 receiving the same in Washington state. When comparing these numbers to total wineries in each state, only 3% of Washington state wineries have received certification versus 13% of Oregon's producers. For a comprehensive list of certified vineyards and wineries in each state, please see lists posted for Oregon and Washington.
In all fairness, there are many farmers and wineries who support eco-friendly practices, but the most rigorous approaches are the ones that ultimately get certified. It's one thing to market that what you do is "green", but an entirely different matter to receive an official certification. That is why I chose to conduct this comparative analysis based on the most effective measurement available: certification by an independent, third-party organization that is recognized in its field for maintaining and upholding high standards.
Based on this standard, Oregon has established a clear leadership position over Washington when it comes to sustainable, organic, and biodynamic practices in both the vineyard and winery.