Sip Sustainable Wine: New York Eco-Friendly Wineries and Vineyards

As the leaves begin to change and the weather cools down, it’s the perfect time to take a day trip to a local winery or vineyard and taste some wine. Wineries and vineyards are located all throughout the country but the West Coast and Napa Valley are what come to most people’s minds when they think about good, environmentally friendly wine. However, the West Coast shouldn’t be the only place recognized.

Several wineries and vineyards on the East Coast, specifically in New York, keep sustainability in mind when producing delicious wine. Instead of visiting an ordinary vineyard, go sip some sustainable wine at one of these New York eco-friendly wineries and vineyards.

1.     Red Tail Ridge Winery

Red Tail Winery

Sustainability at Red Tail Ridge Winery has been at the heart of the winery since its conception. Since then, sustainability has continued to drive winery practices for husband-and-wife owners Mike Schnelle and Nancy Irelan. For experienced winemaker Irelan, practicing sustainability at the winery is a no-brainer. “We are farmers and we live off the land so we want to sustain it as much as we can,” she said. “Sustainability was always a large component of the work I did in California, so I have brought that mindset here to our winery.”

Red Tail Ridge Winery was the first LEED gold certified winery in New York. The winery incorporates massive windows in its design to allow for natural sunlight to replace traditional lighting that helps minimize its carbon footprint. The building runs on geothermal heating and cooling that reduces energy use by more than 50 percent. In addition, the construction of the building includes recycled materials from the vineyard grounds. Inside the winery, low-flow plumbing conserves water.

Although the vineyard is not certified organic or biodynamic, its practices stay as sustainable as possible. The vineyard minimizes its chemical footprint by utilizing integrated pest management (IPM) practices and has permanent cover crops to hinder weeds and replenish nitrogen and organic content. The vineyard was also designed with contour drain tiling to minimize excess soil moisture.

2.     Wölffer Estate Vineyard

Wolffer Estate Vineyard

Wölffer Estate Vineyard is a founding member of Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing (LISW), a nonprofit that educates and certifies Long Island vineyards and is the first sustainable vineyard certification program in the eastern United States. To earn sustainable farming certification, Wölffer Estate Vineyard implemented a comprehensive checklist of approximately 200 sustainable grape-growing practices that included vineyard planning, prohibiting certain materials and practices, and numerous ecological management measures. Some practices at Wölffer Estate Vineyard include: soil management to reduce erosion, run-off and leaching; use of integrated pest management practices for insect, disease and weed control; nutrient management with a focus on nitrogen, pest and spray technology; and cultural practices in natural ways such as hand leaf-removal.

According to Wölffer Estate, its vineyard was one of the first on Long Island to use a recycling sprayer, which reduces pesticide use by more than 25 percent and is the best way to apply the materials to the target and eliminate drift. In addition, the vineyard only irrigates when absolutely necessary and maintains natural vegetation.

Wölffer Estate is developing a composting project in which it will reuse manure, grass clippings, brush, winery pomace and other farm products. It is also researching how it can take advantage of reusable energies.

3.     Lieb Cellars

Lieb Cellars

Since Lieb Cellars acquired its vineyard in 1992, the vineyard has become more sustainable, the soil content has strengthened and the pruning process has been upgraded. In 2005, Lieb Cellars received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Security Program for “meeting high standards of conservation and protecting the environment.” With the grant, the winery receives funds over a 10-year span to continue its sustainable practices that protect the soil and water.

Some of Lieb Cellars sustainable farming practices include: avoidance of herbicides, use of organic fertilizers, preservation of topsoil, replenishment of nutrients on a disciplined schedule, conservation of wildlife, hand-tending and harvesting vines and keeping fruit yields intentionally low.

Lieb Cellars is also a part of the LISW group and takes a yearly pledge to farm according to the nonprofit’s guidelines. In addition, Lieb Cellars produces its wines in different eco-friendly containers,  such as boxes that are 100 percent recyclable, a  bag-in-box that creates 85 percent less landfill waste than traditional glass packages and kegs that are 100 percent recyclable plastic.

According to Dana Kowalsick at Lieb Cellars, the winery plans “to continue to practice sustainable winegrowing so that our land stays healthy and productive long into the future.”

4.     Shinn Estate Vineyards

Shinn Estate Vineyards

Shinn Estate Vineyards has a philosophy of low-impact, sustainable farming and owner Barbara Shinn grows grapes utilizing holistic farming techniques. Through natural fermentations and minimal sulfur additions, the vineyard produces sustainable wine.

Most of the farming practices at Shinn Estate follow organic techniques, however, the vineyard is not organic certified. Soil nutrition, weed control and insect control are accomplished through organic practices as well. Shinn Estate also aims to conserve energy. The vineyard is completely powered by an onsite wind turbine and solar installation.

Shinn Estate is not only a member of the LISW organization but also assisted in creating its standards. The future of Shinn Estate looks even greener. “Through our sustainable farming practices, the vineyard will continue to be pioneers in holistic winegrowing,” Shinn said.

5.     Bedell Cellars

Bedell Cellars

Bedell Cellars is committed to sustainability and, according to its website, views its vineyards as part of a larger ecosystem that safeguards the health of people, wildlife, woodlands and fragile marine estuaries. At Bedell Cellars, the grapes are certified by LISW and the vineyard adheres to its 200 best practices of sustainable farming to reduce the use of agricultural inputs and protect the land and water. Bedell Cellars also composts all of its grape seeds, skins and vine cane prunings and spreads them across the vineyard as a natural fertilizer.

Bedell Cellars crafts wine without adding commercial yeast. Although this process may be gaining popularity in the United States, not many wineries use all natural indigenous yeast fermentations. Richard Olsen-Harbich, winemaker at Bedell Cellars was the first winemaker on Long Island to produce wines exclusively with native yeasts, which gives the wine its unique, local flavor.

According to Olsen-Harbich, wine producers are among the biggest customers of commercial yeast. For him, indigenous fermentation is essential and special because it’s a product of its own environment.

“All of the factors that exist in a winery are a play in determining which combinations of yeasts are present at any given location,” he said, including the grape variety, fruit ripeness, rainfall and humidity, as well as the canopy management and disease control strategies of the vineyard. In the cellar, the types and placement of equipment, the temperature and humidity of the building, even the pH of the water used will have an effect on the ecology of yeast species.

“The truth is every winemaker has designer yeast at their disposal – literally right at their fingertips,” said Olsen-Harbich.

Beyond practicing sustainable farming techniques and using natural yeast in the art of winemaking, Bedell Cellars is one of the founding members of LISW.

“As for us, we feel that sustainability is the future of winegrowing,” Olsen-Harbich said. “It’s our firm belief that sustainable practices are not only better for the environment, our business and our people, it’s also the pathway to making world class wines.”

Photo Credits:

Courtesy of Red Tail Ridge Winery
Courtesy of Lieb Cellars
Courtesy of Shinn Estate Vineyards
Courtesy of Wolffer Estate Vineyard
Courtesy of Bedell Cellars

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