What is a "Green Medal" and How is it Awarded?
The humble vine offers sustenance and livelihood to its custodians over a respectable lifespan of 30, 50, or even 100 years. You hear the word ‘generational’ bandied about, with winery origin stories reaching back two or more centuries (many more in Europe). The green wine movement aims to promote three foundational issues critical to wineries’ long-term viability, often called the "Three E’s of Sustainability": Environment, Economic, and Social Equity.
What Is a Winery Green Medal Award?
The California Green Medal Sustainable Winegrowing Leadership Awards, or simply the Green Medal Awards, recognizes industry leaders in sustainability. To earn a Green Medal Award, winegrowers and wineries first need to go through a rigorous audit and application process for sustainability practices. Much like you do when you’re trying to reduce your power or water bill, wineries start the process by auditing energy and resource use. After the audit, they change practices, implement policies, set goals, and monitor progress.
To make things even more exclusive, the organization only gives out 4 Green Medals per year, awarding just one winery per category of: Leader, Environment, Community, and Business.
What Are the "Three E’s of Sustainability"?
This "E" covers the vineyard and surrounding wildlands. Understanding the delicate ecology of the vineyard cuts down on the number passes needed with a tractor, reducing CO2 emissions. Other environmental sustainability measures in winegrowing include watershed management, water reclamation ponds, drought management plans, preservation measures for sensitive riparian and fish habitats, careful pest control measures, and cover crops to retain topsoil.
Economic sustainability focuses on reducing inputs and reusing resources to save money. This starts with energy audits. Ambitious producers aim to craft carbon neutral wine by offsetting their environmental impact with renewable energy sources and thoughtful winery design practices. Solar panels, jacketed insulation tanks, and gravity flow winery architecture all help lower CO2 in winemaking and save producers money over time.
Q: How much CO2 does the wine industry produce?
A: According to the beverage industry leaders over at Sestra, an average wine bottle’s carbon footprint is around 1.28kg CO2; the equivalent of driving 3 miles in an eco-friendly Honda Accord.
One of the largest carbon footprints in wine production is packaging. Heavy bottles take more energy to manufacture and ship to the winery and added gasoline to distribute to stores around the country. A simple change like selecting lighter bottles reduces CO2 emissions across the supply and distribution chain for low carbon footprint wine.
Perhaps the most intriguing "E" of the 3 is social equity. Sustainability certifiers recognize that wine producers are part of larger communities. Social equity covers a broad range of topics, from living wages for employees, to educational seminars for guests and communities, and even philanthropic charity donations.
Sustainable wine companies use extensive checklists with hundreds of discrete criteria to review their current practices and identify where they can make meaningful changes under each of these three broad categories.
Certified Sustainable Wine
One of the challenges for the consumer is that every major winegrowing state has its own regional sustainability certification. For example, in California the California Wine Institute oversees state-level sustainability programs. Some regions offer local sustainable wine certifications as well, like the Lodi Rules that cover the Lodi AVA. A wine may be certified by one organization or the other. Unlike Organic and Biodynamic, there isn’t a single universal seal for Eco-certified wines. The seal will vary depending on the certifying body.
Another point of confusion is what, exactly, is sustainable about a particular bottle of wine?
Similar to Organic wines, the vineyard can be Certified Sustainable, the winery can be Certified Sustainable, or both can be Certified Sustainable. A wine will sport some form of a seal if it meets any of these conditions. Look for wines with this seal the next time you’re in your local wine shop and see if you can figure out what about the wine’s production is certified.
The Future of Green Wine
Winegrowers and winemakers understand the fundamental importance of stewardship of the land for future generations. Sustainability programs give recognition to those producers who pro-actively seek out ways to reduce their dependence on finite resources while protecting the environment and honoring their communities.
Gold Medal Wine Club is also proud to recognize efforts to go green. Even in just the last 4 years, 4 different wineries we've featured in our wine memberships have been awarded the Green Medal:
2021: Shannon Ridge Family of Wines - Environment Award
2020: Clif Family Wines - Community Award
2019: Scheid Family Wines - Environment Award
2018: St. Supéry Family Estate - Environment Award
However, apart from the official Green Medal, many other wineries and vineyards we've highlighted partake in green wine practices.
See a number of eco-friendly wines below!
Author Bio: Erin O’Reilly, Certified Specialist of Wine, is a wine writer and educator. She pens her work from Monterey wine country where she raises a glass to the growers and producers crafting wines that transcend time.