A group of East End winemakers has formed a not-for-profit organization that will help ensure sustainable farming in the industry and be the first program of its kind on the East Coast.
Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing Inc. will use three criteria to certify vineyards:
Care for the land through more ecological winegrowing and harvesting
Care for the community and workers
Building strong businesses to sustain farming on Long Island
"Farming in general is not completely sustainable," said Richard Olsen-Harbich, a winemaker at Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue, and one of the leaders in the organization. "We have an impact on our surroundings. But we can use the knowledge we have today, science-based, to come up with a series of best practices and techniques."
Other areas of the country, including California and Oregon, already have certified wine sustainability programs. Now that the local certification framework is in place, the group can start the certification process.
The certification will be done through an independent consultant, Allan Connell, who used to work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service in Riverhead. He will visit the wineries that seek the certification, Olsen-Harbich said.
As of now, about 10 wineries are members of the organization, but none of them has been certified. Most of Long Island's vineyards and wineries are on the East End's forks. The Long Island Wine Council, an industry association, said it has 37 member wineries.
Alice Wise, senior extension resource educator and vineyard growing expert at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County in Riverhead, was also instrumental in setting up the program, Olsen-Harbich said.
Since it is based on Long Island, the organization will tailor sustainability to the area's unique terrain, most of which sits over an aquifer used for drinking water, Olsen-Harbich said.
Using fewer pesticides, or waiting to see if an insecticide is even necessary, would be part of the plan to leave healthy soil for future generations, he said.
Also among the certification would be what Olsen-Harbich calls "social equity," such as building relationships in the community, communicating with workers and being a "good neighbor."
Keeping the business sound is also part of the certification. "Without a company that's economically strong and viable, there is no farming," Olsen-Harbich noted.
The group plans to have labels for the wine bottles signifying compliance with the sustainability program. This marketing program allows vineyard owners to show consumers that they use a more holistic approach to make wines.