The Deal With “Sustainable” Wine, And the 20 Best Bottles Under $20
A sommelier explains how wine can do the world some good, taste great and cost little
Sarah Tracey is a wine pro certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers who’s taught 400+ wine classes. She’s run the wine programs of Michelin-star NYC restaurants and traveled the world visiting wine regions across the globe.
I get asked all the time by people that join my wine classes and tastings how to find sustainable wines for a good price. The misconception is that they are much more expensive than conventional wines.
Let’s define some terms here. Unlike organic wine (which means there are no synthetic chemicals used in the grapes’ farming) or natural wine (which only refers to a minimalist winemaking philosophy), sustainable wine takes a 360-degree view. While sustainable wineries do, for the most part, follow organic farming practices, they also implement programs that not only care for the land but also promote social equity, fair labor practices and economic responsibility to support their future growth. Initiatives like green energy systems, fish-friendly farming, reducing carbon footprint, water conservation, wildlife protection and ensuring their workers have access to healthcare are all pillars of sustainable wine.
And the great news is, you can do right by the world and find great sustainable wines under $20.
Some of my favorites (and some for as little as $10-$12, all available online at Vivino), below.
In Australia’s Margaret River region, Cape Mentelle’s sustainable viticulture philosophy starts in the vineyard and extends through all winery and waste management practices. They are one of only five wineries in Australia to achieve Entwine certification (essentially, they meet that country’s sustainability credentials). This wine is a fresh, lively and crisp white blend perfect for summer sipping.
In 2002, Stemmari was the first winery in Italy to be awarded the EMAS 2 — a certification created by the European Community for environmental sustainability and management. Nero d’Avola is a grape native to Sicily and it’s rich, velvety and mouth-filling, with dark plum and cherry flavors.
From central Chile’s Rapel Valley in the Andes’ foothills comes this bright and zesty Sauvignon Blanc. T winery was awarded a CarbonNeutral certification and vineyards are biodynamically farmed with no pesticides.
This juicy red is an easy-drinking Chianti bursting with ripe fruit notes balanced by earthy undertones. In 2010, Salcheto was the first company in the world to have certified the carbon footprint of a bottle of wine (according to ISO 14064 standard). Today, consumers can log onto the winery website, enter their specific bottle and location into a CO2 calculator and find out its exact carbon footprint — from the winery doors to the place you’re uncorking it.
Washington State’s founding winery Chateau Ste. Michelle has reduced energy consumption, conserves water and implemented a range of recycling efforts, and these steps have earned them an EnviroStar certification. Their focus on soil health helps area wildlife: they don’t use pesticides that pose a hazard to salmon and aquatic life, and pest control treatments are applied only when necessary. Their flagship Riesling is full of sunny peach and apricot flavors.
Time to try a sparkling red. Made from Lambrusco Salmonino grapes, this wine has earthy herbal aromas and tastes like juicy black cherries. It’s dry with good acidity and light tannins, and the fizz makes this the ideal pizza wine. Venturini Baldini was one of the first in Italy (and the first in its region) to switch to entirely organic production.
Bodega Santa Julia was the first winery in Argentina to have achieved the Fair For Life certification, which guarantees workers good and fair working conditions throughout the production chain. The wines are delicious and also made with organically-farmed grapes: double-win.
New Zealand’s Villa Maria winery follows eco-friendly practices like using the leftover grape skins and stems from winemaking as compost, planting wildflowers to attract a diverse insect population and supporting worm farms by planting cover crops like clover. They also support their community by only using local vendors for packaging and supplies; as well, they have a goal of zero-waste goal 2025. This silky Pinot Noir is filled with wild strawberry and red raspberry flavors.
Certified sustainable by the California Sustainable Winegrower’s Alliance, Rodney Strong is solar-powered, carbon-neutral and certified by Fish Friendly Farming. They employ techniques for soil and water conservation and provide housing for seasonal and full-time vineyard workers. Their Chardonnay is filled with bright lemon and pineapple flavors and a touch of toasty oak; it’s a solid choice with seafood or roast chicken.
This lively, spicy and savory red is medium-bodied and full of juicy red cherry flavors with a hint of tobacco. It’s made from sustainably grown vines planted from 1940 to 1955, and the grapes were 100% hand-harvested.
Light, dry and filled with zesty citrus and spicy white pepper notes, this is an ideal pairing for spring veggies or even oysters. Certified organic and sustainable, this wine is also vegan — an excellent option for plant-based wine lovers.
If you’ve never tasted a white Rioja, let this be the wine that fixes that. Based on the Viura grape, the sustainably-farmed grapes are harvested by hand and fermented with indigenous yeast before aging in stainless steel, making this a wine with medium weight, abundant fruit and incredible freshness.
Looking for an organic and sustainable red blend? Cono Sur, a sustainable winery in Santiago, Chile, crafts this powerful blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere and Syrah. In 1998, Cono Sur switched from conventional farming to using natural alternatives for fertilizing and controlling pests in the vineyard. Today, 300 hectares are farmed organically.
The team at Australia’s Yalumba Winery believes that healthier vines create better wines. In 2016, they installed the most extensive solar power system of any Australian winery and aim to make as little impact on the environment as possible through soil and water conservation. Their wines are organic and vegan. Viognier is an aromatic white grape that makes wines filled with honeysuckle aromas and ripe peach and tropical flavors. Try this one with fish tacos.
Based on the Grenache grape, this is a fun, punchy rosé perfect to be sipped on picnics or poolside (it even comes in a can version for that very purpose). Bonterra employs organic and biodynamic farming, holds a TRUE zero-waste certification, is certified CarbonNeutral, pays all workers a living wage and provides them with free ESL courses and financial literacy programs.
This zero-sugar-added, bright and refreshing sparkling wine is an ideal bottle to pop while celebrating the planet: Vilarnau Cava was the first winery in its region and one of only 14 in Spain to be awarded the Wineries for Climate Protection (WfCP) certification. To achieve this, they reduced their use of fossil fuels by 25,000 liters/year, converted vineyards to eco-friendly farming practices and installed a system to collect and reuse rainwater.
Winemaker Gérard Bertrand, named 2020 Green Personality of the Year by The Drinks Business, has long been considered a sustainability leader in France’s Languedoc-Rousillon region. An early pioneer of biodynamic farming. Bertrand believes that 90% of the finished wine is a result of the work in the vineyard. Naturae Merlot is an organic and sulfite-free wine with a round, plush, velvety texture and plummy dark fruit flavors.
Veramonte produces their red wines in Chile’s Colchagua region, and all of their wines are organically farmed. By cultivating healthy, living soils and maintaining a natural balance in the vineyards, they ensure quality wine production with low environmental impact for decades. Their Cabernet Sauvignon is leathery, bold and intense with an abundance of black fruit character—a perfect choice for summer grilling.
In Spain’s Aragon region, the Cariñena DO lies outside Zaragoza and is known for its old-vine Garnacha. Bodegas Paniza is a cooperative winery: owned by 300 family farmers who contribute fruit and share profits. This highly crushable red is smooth and filled with rich red cherry and raspberry flavors … and it tastes much more expensive than it is.
With its vineyards and olive groves certified organic since 2006, Baglio di Pianetto is also solar-powered, has reduced its carbon emissions and installed a water conservation system. The winemaking facilities are engineered to move grapes by gravity and minimize energy from pumps and hydraulics. Their Nero d’Avola shines with blood orange and red plum notes and is an excellent pasta pairing.
This article was featured in the InsideHook newsletter. Sign up now.
Suggested for you