Wines & Vines

December 2015 Unified Symposium Preview Sessions Issue

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68 WINES&VINES December 2015 GRAPEGROWING W inery and vineyard owners often cite the cost of organic certifica- tion as the reason for not certify- ing their vines or wines. But are the costs of certification really that high? Putting aside the debate about whether or not organic farming costs are higher, many organic produc- ers and certifiers say wine sellers and members of the wine industry in general don't understand how inexpensive certification fees are. Certification fees were not initially high, but the 2014 Farm Bill reduced them even more, giving small farmers a lift. The federal legislation lowered costs for the nation's 15,000 organic farmers (including 200-plus organic wine grape growers and vintners) by providing subsidies of up to $750 each for organic vineyards and organic wineries. Winemaker and winery owner Julie John- son, who farms 12 acres of certified-organic vineyards at her Tres Sabores Winery in Napa's Rutherford appellation, was glad to see the subsidies offered to organic farmers this year. "Effectively you get back a rebate up to 75% of organic certification fees, up to $750," she said. "That reduced my annual bill—usu- ally $1,200—quite a bit." For example, with the subsidies, a Napa, Calif., farmer growing 10 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon yielding 4 tons of wine grapes valued at $6,000 per ton (for a per-acre yield of $24,000) would pay a California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) certification fee on $240,000 worth of grapes, which works out to $40 per acre. For a Monterey County, Calif., grower with 100 acres yielding 4 tons of wine grapes val- ued at $1,300 per ton (for a per-acre yield of $5,200), the CCOF certification fee would amount to $11.50 per acre per year. Certification required Farming organically is not enough to enable a producer to use the term "organic." A winery is not legally permitted to say it is "practicing organic." Under federal law, use of the word requires certification. According to California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) spokesman Steve Lyle, in the past year and a half, five California win- eries that did not have certified vineyards were reprimanded for using the word "organic" on websites, social media or other marketing ma- terials and were issued cease and desist orders to remove the word "organic" from their websites. One uncertified Santa Barbara County pro- ducer thought it was entitled to use the word organic because it had stopped using Roundup. Once a vineyard owner makes the choice to become certified, there are two pipers to pay in California: the CDFA's California State Or- ganic Program and a third-party certification group. (The U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Organic Program (NOP) website dis- plays a list of certifiers.) Growers with crops worth less than $5,000 may call their products "organic" without being certified. The California State Organic Program fees kick in when a producer has more than $5,000 worth of crops. Fees are based on a sliding scale. Wine labeling When it comes to understanding how the cer- tification process works, there is a learning curve for vintners, according to Janie Brooks Heuck of Brooks Wine in Oregon's Willamette Valley, who first certified Brooks' vineyards organic and Biodynamic in 2012. "I didn't know you also had to certify the winery to put your Biodynamic certification on the label," Heuck said. Brooks' new winery was certified in 2015, so the winery can now label its wines with the words "organic" and/or "Biodynamic" on the front or back label. "The process wasn't so bad. It didn't cost that much money," Heuck reports. Costs and wine standards Whether or not a winery pays certification fees on vineyards alone or vineyards and its winery is a matter of choice. Vintners who want to mark a wine label with an approved organic logo and wording must pay to certify their win- ery and conform to specific USDA standards. In the organic landscape, producers may choose from three wine standards. The USDA NOP wine standards apply equally to domestic as well as foreign producers. Ingredients: Organic Grapes Vintners who don't want to certify their facility have the option of making wine from certified grapes in any bonded winery. They are then eligible to use the words "Ingredients: Organic Grapes" on their wine labels. The la- beling for this standard can only be on the back of the bottle—not the front. There are no sulfite What It Costs to Be Certified Organic or Biodynamic Certifying vineyard and winery sites amounts to cents per bottle By Pam Strayer KEY POINTS The perceived cost of certifying organic and Biodynamic grapes keeps some winemakers and grapegrowers from getting third-party certification. Vineyard owners and managers say the costs are not as high as one might expect, but the time spent is significant. There are multiple ways to label wine as organic or Biodynamic, with exact wording dependent on site inspected, additives included and certifying agency. A sign identifies Ehlers Estate vineyard as organic.

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