The Sustainable Winery: 7 U.S. Wines You Can Feel Good About Drinking

“Sustainable” is a word that’s often thrown around in the winery business, but before using it, it’s important to define.

Sustainable can mean pretty much anything, from how a winery gets its energy to how it grows its grapes. As Sonoma County’s Winegrape Commission President Karissa Kruse told the San Francisco Chronicle “sustainable” has become “a buzzword in the market. But to growers the tenet of sustainability is fairly simple: good farming practices and living as light on the land as possible. It’s being a good steward, a good employer and a good neighbor.” Sonoma County is actually working hard to get all of its vintners on the same page when it comes to sustainable practices, hoping for 100 percent participation over the next five years.

There are so many elements that go into the wine making process, and no one label to cover it all, which is why when you’re looking for wines that are not only tasty but made in a conscious way, you have to be ready to dig a little deeper. No one wants pesticides in their wine after all, and wouldn’t it be nice to be drinking something that’s small batch and made according to traditional wine making methods? Not all sustainable wines are created equal, but fortunately, there are a lot of wineries in the U.S. working hard to make delicious wine, and doing it with a conscience. Here are a 7 wineries from around the country that are doing good things when it comes to wine production and should be on your drinking radar. You’ll get wines you can certainly feel good about consuming.

1. Kelly Fox Wines, Oregon

A full-time winemaker in the Willamette Valley for 13 years, Kelly Stearns Fox is a woman who believes in her wines, from grape to bottle. She works with Maresh Vineyards as well as Detemer-certified biodynamic vineyard Momtazi for her grapes. Depending on the yeast present in the grapes and in the winery, she is committed to making “living wines,” a refreshing change from the tastes of standardized industrial wines so common nowadays.

2. Dirty and Rowdy, California

Working mostly by hand (and feet) the Dirty and Rowdy team are truly passionate about wine and the winemaking process. Getting back to the roots of winemaking, this is wine as wine was intended to be made, using grapes from three old vineyards of Mourvèdre, which is a good thing: 93 percent of all of Northern California’s wine growing areas are planted with the same eight major grape varieties. Diversity is a good thing.

3. Frey Wine, California

The first producer of certified organic and biodynamic wines in the United States, family-owned vineyard Frey has been a leader in the sustainable wine movement. Not only are organic vineyards on the property, but organic gardens and honeybees as well. Half of their energy comes from solar power, and because they’re located in Mendocino County which in 2004 passed the first county-wide GMO ban, you can be sure that there won’t be any GMOs in your glass.

4. Montebruno Wine Co., Oregon

Working closely with growers who employ sustainable and biodynamic farming practices, at Montebruno the growing of the fruit is as important as turning it into drink form. As they put it, “real wine is a direct link to a small piece of carefully tended earth and the intention is always to harvest the purest most balanced fruit possible.”

5. Deep Creek, Maryland

Wine from Maryland? Yes. With vineyards at 2,100 feet, this winery is among the highest on the Eastern side of the U.S. Using high-nutrient compost, biodynamic principles and minimal organic spays, Deep Creek is focused on organic practices that minimize their impact and protect the local watershed. The wines are modeled after rustic European country wines, which means less oak flavor typical of American wines, and more fruit.

6. Charles Smith Wines, Washington

A self-taught winemaker, Charles Smith happens to be a former band manager. His focus is on terroir, and the approach to wine is practical: they’re meant to be consumed now. He launched in 2001 with K Vintners, hand-picking the grapes, manually stomping them and fermenting them with naturally occurring yeasts. Today he makes a handful of wines under different labels, and his still just as committed to his artisan craft.

7. Montinore, Oregon

A Detemer-certified biodynamic estate, Montinore has 210 acres of vineyards that are farmed in a way that creates a self-sustaining eco system. Established in 1982, they have had their Detemer certification since 2008.

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Image: Vina Caliterra