Sustainability has become an ubiquitous term, namely in the wine sector, often loosely used, seldom fully understood. Many wine regions have recently jumped on the bandwagon, in an effort to reassure consumers of their newfound green accolades. The true sustainability champions, however, have been consistently committed to the environmental and social best practices that shape a common better future, without fuss but with steadfast determination.
Among such pioneers is Washington State, whose long history of commitment to sustainability and long term awareness is founded upon both the region’s natural conditions and the culture of its winemaking community.
Nature as a fierce ally
Sustainable viticulture is a fundamental part of Washington State’s DNA not least due to the environmental conditions that naturally prevent the propagation of many insects, fungal diseases and harmful vegetation. This presented both the opportunity and responsibility to embrace mindful viticultural approaches with a focus on the preservation of this natural balance. Applying the same approach to other of the pillars of sustainability was simply an inevitable step, and one that resonated with the already prevailing ethos.
The consolidation of the inherent sustainable practices took form in the state’s own certification programme, Sustainable WA, rooted in an educational sustainability program, Vinewise® and Winerywise™, created over two decades ago and intentionally scalable for certification.
But if Sustainable WA shows the institutional side of the state’s proactive approach to mindful viticultural, winemaking, operational and social practices, its structure is based upon a strong grassroots movement. The individual determination of producers has catalysed a statewide culture of awareness and proactive action, seen not just in the number of certified stakeholders, but also in the multiple, singular case studies of strategic action.
Holistic understanding of present and future challenges
Many of these efforts involve challenging assumptions and consumers expectations by adopting a non-nonsense, evidence-based approach. An example of which can be seen in the ‘World Class in Lighter Glass’ initiative, championed by Kiona Vineyards, that commits to use of lightweight bottles and adopts an educational approach, underlining that a high quality wine is in no way correlated with a heavy bottle.
One of the greatest achievements of the region is to build a comprehensive resilience for the future – the essence of sustainable development. A big part of which is done through the consolidation of a strong sense of community and the education of the next generation of growers and producers. These are the premises of initiatives such as the Farmer Ambassador Program, the Alliance of Women in Washington Wine and the groundbreaking wine research program at Washington State University.
The passion of all Washington State producers and growers is eye-opening proof that a different way of working, with respect not just for nature but for all the resources – energetic, economic, human, etc. – is possible. May it be an inspiration not just for producers worldwide, but also for consumers when choosing a wine – on April 22 but as on every day of the year.