Sustainability In The Spotlight: “Down To Earth” Wine Book Giveaway!

Vinted on May 6, 2014 binned in giveaways

Aaaand, the giveaways are back, people!

This week, I’ve got two copies of The Wine Institute‘s new tome, “Down to Earth: A Seasonal Tour of Sustainable Winegrowing in California” to give away to some of you lucky folk.

As some of you possibly soon-to-be lucky folk already know, I rather enjoyed “Down to Earth” (I received a review copy). Janet Fletcher’s text is well-written, the organization of profiled wineries by season provides a helpful context of year-long sustainable farming, and the environmentally-focused efforts by the included wine brands are largely interesting. George Rose’s photography might be the real show-stealer in this one, though; as I wrote for

“Rose has a knack for being able to move between intimate subjects (people, animals, insects, and grapes) and larger contexts (hillsides, and vineyards) without losing a sense of the beauty and tranquility in either.”

Yeah, I just quoted myself, okay? Anyway, The book concludes with some interesting seasonal recipes as well, which is a nice bonus (well, it is when you have a significant other who happens to be a fantastic cook, like I do).

If you want to grab your own hardcover copy of “Down to Earth” (about $40 value), here’s the skinny on how it is all gonna go down…

  • Leave a comment here with your thoughts on anything related to sustainable winemaking; do you care about it? does it inform your vino purchases? got a story from a visit to a sustainably-farmed vineyard? never ever given a rat’s tuckus about how your wine’s grapes were farmed? Let’s hear it!

[ Editor’s note: Personally, I can say that as a wine consumer, the concept of sustainability rarely occurs to me,, which is a bit of a sad commentary on my buying habits (particularly when we consider that in most of my other food purchases, this does inform my decisions quite heavily). Now, granted, I buy a lot less wine now than I used to before I got overrun with samples, but still… ].

  • On Friday, May 9 at 8PM ET, I will randomly select two winners from the commenters, each of whom will get one copy of the new book. Note that’s a shorter run than most of the week-long giveaways here, so get your environmentally-friendly a** in gear and comment if you want a chance to win!

You need to have a U.S. shipping address (which means you probably also pay your taxes, right?).

Cheers – and good luck!





  • Todd - VT Wine Media

    OK I'm game…while not an absolute criteria when making a wine purchasing decision, the sustainability angle does have a lot of appeal as a high level concept. The challenge is in sorting through varied definitions of what makes an effort sustainable. California has its own methodology, within the state Lodi has their own "Rules" as well (which also functions as a marketing campaign), even Long Island has a sustainability program. There will be a lot of shared ideas, but I'm guessing that the water part of the equation is a lot different in the Central Valley than the North Fork.
    I'm interested in what this book has to offer, because I do have questions about the growth curve of California wine at a time when water assets seem to be shrinking and there is other competition for that resource…by what process, and at what limit to growth does the industry remain sustainable?
    On the consumer end of things, it can take a lot to make sense of all that's going on within the category of "sustainable". A couple of years ago we did a presentation and group tasting to consider the distinctions and overlaps between organic, bio-dynamic, and sustainable: ( ) Folks were very engaged with the ideas, there was lively discussions, and I saw the group come to some interesting conclusions.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Todd, and thanks for the interesting link as well. They way I look at this stuff is this: no approach is going to be perfect or without cavils, but generally I'm in support of the trends that I think are positive. I.e., it's ok that sustainable is vague, or that BioD is weird, or that organic has some issues, so long as where they are trending is better overall for the Earth and for us. I suspect it will be a decades long road before that stuff is sorted out, but will we all be better off for the journey? Yeah, I think that we will.

  • Jonathan C. Zeiger

    Always feel better about drinking a "sustainably made" wine. Tells me 2 things- the viticulturist was being fully responsible in his land use and the winemaker was paying close attention to every step he took. I agree with your last comment Joe, if it's better for Earth and better for us then why not? This cartoon kinda sums it up-

    • 1WineDude

      :-) Thanks, Jonathan.

  • Susan D

    Sustainability is far from the first thing about which I think when I think about wines. In my opinion, while the vintners think about it more than I do, I believe that, in recent years, their greater concern has been diseases affecting the vines. However, if sustainable farming keeps the vines healthier and free of disease, then sustainable farming practices might grow in awareness and, perhaps, importance. After all, if the vines die or do not grow disease-free quality grapes, then the vintners can make no wine from the grapes grown on those vines

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Susan. Good points, the sort of good-for-all-sides argument.

  • Les Hubbard


    When I became director of a small or boutique Maryland winery in the 1970s the word "sustainability" wasn't part of our lexicon. However, the owner took great care in attempting to ensure that his vines were always healthy. No herbicide, instead use a grape hoe to control weeds. How do I minimize sprays to control mildew and fungus were always key questions in our humid climate. Pumice from the winery was always applied to the vineyard. Do not water the vines even when young when drip irrigation had become the rage. Allow the vines to seek their own water by putting down deep root systems aided by not allowing younger vines to yield a crop so the roots would become ever more healthy. In our Eastern climate, it is unlikely we will ever be able to adopt truly organic growing processes for wine grapes. Thus, how does one define "sustainable" in Eastern states?

    In more recent years as our daughter and son-in-law struggle with their inherited farm in North Carolina, I've witnessed Ag practices by the big commodity farmers (cotton, tobacco, soy beans, corn, etc.) that just continue to destroy the land. Simply over fertilization to ensure that yields will remain high leads to the stream running through the property to literally foam in the summer. While some small local farmers attempt to practice more sustainable agriculture, the big corporate farmers aided and abetted by favorable government subsidies, etc. appear to operate exactly the opposite means to sustainable Ag. I might conclude that consumers aware of sustainable agricultural practices, whether it be wines or food stuffs would be a great leap forward, but I just don't see it happening in a widespread manner. Certainly, the eat and drink local folks are attempting to make such an awareness more widespread, but again, most people will shop where they get the best and lowest prices with little concern about how their food was produced. Perhaps I'm too cynical, but this what I've observed on both the production end and the retailing end of the business including wines. Only maybe one in 200 hundred wine consumers even asks about organic grown grapes. The average wine consumer facing the wine wall will likely first look at price points and some buy for the "cuteness" of the label. In the retail environment I've worked in part time (an Italian specialty store selling wines/beer/spirits with a full service meat counter and deli) for the last seven years, I'd estimate that less than five percent of our customers were even remotely interested in the source of their foods and how they are produced. Those few who are concerned are very vocal. However, when we attempted to sell grass-fed beef, few would buy because of the higher price and that experiment along with many others proved to me that few are willing to pay for higher quality food stuffs, despite the success of Whole Foods and their ilk, which I suspect sell to a very small portion of our total American population. Unfortunately price appears to drive the average consumer. Finally, I suspect that in the long run, wine grape growers who follow sustainable practices will in fact lower their costs of production, which should give them an advantage in the marketplace.


    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Les. I think it's a long, long road. The one in two hundred is at least a start. I suppose in some ways it's similar to getting smoking banned in a widespread way, it's going to take time, and as you point out not every region is going to be able to do the same things (here in PA, organic is a non-starter).

  • @LAWineGal

    I love that we have more and more sustainable options available now. I can't necessarily tell the difference in taste but it does make me feel better about a purchase if I know it's been sustainably farmed. Cheers!

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, LA. I'm all for wine that helps people sleep better at night in multiple ways!

  • gabe

    The winemaking sustainability issue that concerns me the most is water use in California. It's clearly a limited resource, yet we're devoting billions of gallons of California water to produce millions of gallons of two buck chuck.

    • 1WineDude

      Gabe, yeah, that issue has started to take on religious debate overtones given the weather recently.

  • Mildred

    Sustainability has not been an issue for me when buying or consuming wine but, to follow up on gabe's post above, it is not just the limited supply of water in California, but the quality of the water in California, too. (Several California water districts add chemicals to water or use "toilet to tap" water for the water supply. There was a newspaper article recently in the Los Angeles area about how Los Angeles is changing its disinfecting chemical additive from Chlorine to Chloramine, one that allegedly can cause health problems in some people. Perhaps the change could affect winemaking, too?)
    As for your comment about how the "book concludes with some interesting seasonal recipes," as a person who likes cooking, I have found a number of books about wine country that tuck good (if not great) recipes into their pages. When and if you tour around the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, you are bound to see at least one or two

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Mildred. One is tempted to start thinking of the famous “our precious bodily fluids!” movie scene with that LA reference. ;-)

  • chicagopinot

    Sustainability is one factor among many I consider for my wine purchases. I also look at case production, how they interact with their customers on social media, how they describe their wines online (do they write notes/descriptors that make sense to non-wine nerds?) Meeting a winemaker in person is always revealing to me, if I have a positive encounter, I am much more likely to purchase.

    • 1WineDude

      CP – thanks. To your last point, I once had a conversation with a former somm who said that he thinks we should award higher ratings to wines that are made by nicer people. :)

  • Rebecca Hopkins

    Growing up in a drought-challenged area of Australia, sustainability in our family always meant working with what we had. Whether that was having a native garden, mulching our home vege patch, or simple water conservation, our understanding of sustainability started at home. For the wine industry it gives me hope that there is both a strong belief in sustainability, and also a commitment to further education, empowerment and recognition. Sadly it is not the "sexiest" thing that sells on a label, or necessarily my first criteria when making a purchase, but having seen wineries with & without sustainable practices, I firmly believe the difference is apparent and certainly is a strong consideration when I'm parting with my wine bucks.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Rebecca. It\’s good to see some of those backyard sustainability practices happening more now here in the States. Some in my very own backyard, actually! :-)

  • 1WineDude

    Hi all – thanks for the great comments and discussion! We have winners:

    gabe & chicagopinot

    Congrats, guys!

  • Kayla K

    Sustainable is a word I struggle with. I've tried to sell our own personal meaning and have had to challenge a customers personal definition. I find it to be a grey word in the winer industry. Can you kill squirrels and be sustainable farmers? What if you use fertilizer AND compost? I think I see a. Blog post coming….

    • 1WineDude

      Kayla, Yeah, that'd be a good read, for sure.

  • Lyndsey Garza

    I really think sustainability is something people in the wine industry should take a special note of, especially when it comes to reaching and marketing to Millennials. Its no secret that Millennials are the largest consumer group in the wine industry now, but finding a sweet spot to resonate with them is tough and sometimes can feel like a shot in the dark. However, research shows that the younger generation will pay MORE for an item if is sustainable and also gravitate towards stores like Trader Joe's or Whole Foods (when their discretionary income lets them.) To reference a comment above — I don't see what ISN'T sexy about sustainability. Saving the world one package and one carbon footprint at a time shows consumers you care more about your wallet… if that isn't romantic, I don't know what is!

    I recently wrote a blog post about Millennials and the wine industry, and I think you might enjoy! I'd love any feedback.

    • 1WineDude

      Lyndsey- I think it might not be sexy to the bottom line, which is why the changes will come slowly. I suspect for the bigger producers, the changes won't come at all unless they prove to be worth it fiscally. Having said that, I agree that we should keep pushing it as sexy, because it's one ofthe few ways it stands a chance at becoming more of the norm. Cheers!

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