Since its creation in 2012, I’ve been getting many questions about the Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing (LISW) program and what it really
means. The good news is sustainability is really quite simple. Agriculturally, sustainability means growing a crop using methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources, ensuring the viability of that crop for a long time. By farming with a minimal impact on the surrounding society and environment, we meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In other words, we try to stop fouling our own nest.
What does this mean for wine? The LISW program is pretty specific in this regard. Every year members must complete nearly 200 detailed ecological management options that require the use of safer and less toxic materials, limit nitrogen fertilization and reduce or eliminate herbicides. Member wineries must plant cover crops, compost their own grape pomace and practice integrated pest management to scout for insects and disease. This allows us to manage vineyards with precise surgical strikes, rather than using, say, a blanket chemical treatment with unacceptable side effects.
The primary goal is to conserve Long Island’s delicate maritime and estuary ecosystems by protecting our ground and surface waters from leaching and runoff while maintaining healthy soil. It’s hard work staying two steps ahead of the game, and participating vineyards have to be verified every year through a vineyard inspection. LISW remains one of only 11 such programs worldwide for wine grapes.
Why is this important?
LISW helps ensure that wine growing remains viable in our region for generations to come. We’re on the way to make the sustainable practices required by LISW the standard on the East Coast. We believe that vineyards should work in harmony with our natural world and leave the land we steward in better condition than when we found it; we can do this by building a community between vineyards, workers and the land. Not only will we help protect our sole source of drinking water and improve the environmental conditions of our surrounding waterways—we will also make better and more distinctive wines.
This year, certified member wineries of LISW will begin to use a “certified sustainable” seal on their labels. This logo can only be used by vineyards that have completed and passed a rigorous inspection. It’s an important thing to look for; when you see it on a wine you’ll know that the grapes were grown under the LISW program. Certified member wineries can begin to use the LISW seal beginning with the 2012 vintage.
In just two years, LISW has emerged as a legitimate and serious program that already compares favorably with programs that have existed for much longer. The 2014 vintage marks the third season of LISW with 10 vineyards achieving certification in 2013. Current membership includes 18 vineyards and wineries with more than 700 acres under the certification program. Our goal is to continue to expand and have others take on the mantle of sustainability.
Sustainability starts at home—with all of us. Recycling, conserving energy and supporting your local farms are all sustainable actions we can take on our own. We need to be open to buying products that give equal emphasis to the so- cial, environmental and economic benefits of paying a fair price for locally grown products. More and more, consumers are learning about the impact of their food and wine choices on their total quality of life. So next time you’re going to pull a cork, look for the LISW certified seal, remember all that goes into your local wine—and think about sustain- ability. It all begins with you.