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Long Island Vintners: Gamechangers in Sustainability

June 7, 2012
LISW is the first wine certification program on the East Coast with high standards. (Photo by: LISW)

Looking for local wines that are as sustainable as can be? Have a sip of this: Several Long Island-based winegrowers have forged together to launch an ecologically mindful collective around the careful cultivation of one juicy little fruit: the grape. Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing (LISW), a not-for-profit organization and the first sustainable vineyard certification program east of the Mississippi, officially went public with their message on Earth Day of this year.

Co-founder Richard Olsen-Harbich, wine grower of Bedell Cellars, is an outspoken advocate of sustainability and consumer education. His passion is evident in the organization’s initiatives: implementing best growing practices for long term land health, differentiating between the term “sustainable” and its “organic” and “biodynamic” cousins and developing a self-assessment workbook for winegrowers to make cost-effective, sustainable practices accessible, to name a few.

In an effort to preserve the rich and delicate ecosystems of Long Island’s East End (and in support of local businesses), Olsen-Harbich and several neighboring winegrowers—including delegates from Channing Daughters Winery, Martha Clara Vineyards, and Shinn Estate Vineyards—are encouraging their fellow colleagues to consider sustainable growing a viable option, and inviting consumers to learn more about the benefits of sustainable wines. Giving credibility to the concept and practice of sustainability is a mission Olsen-Harbich shares with his LISW co-founders.

“The term ‘sustainability’ has gotten short-tripped by the media at large around ‘its lack of definition,’ ‘too broad a focus,’ ‘lack of focus,’ or ‘inability to be a certifiable practice or program,’ and obviously we totally disagree,” says Olsen-Harbich. “There are practices and philosophies involved that make a difference and we’ve codified, such as reducing nitrogen applications to a certain amount every year.”

In collaboration with Cornell University Cooperative Extension and with funding from New York Wine & Grape Foundation and New York Farm Viability Institute, LISW created the New York VineBalance Grower Self-Assessment Workbook. By using this tool designed to help demystify parameters around sustainability, growers are empowered and supported in practices that best serve and preserve their land and local ecosystems for generations to come.

Wines certified by LISW’s process will be identified by this logo and are expected to be available in stores in 2013. If drinking sustainable libations is important to you, let your local liquor store know what you prefer and specifically request them. And if holding out until 2013 to get your hands on a logo-baring bottle is something you just can’t swallow, wine tours of participating LISW vineyards are a great way to whet your whistle while you wait.

Images courtesy of LISW.

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