Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

What does it mean to be CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE?

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Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE) is a certification program developed by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA) that provides verification that a winery or vineyard adopts and implements sustainable winegrowing practices according to the industry's code of best practices and commits to a "process of continuous improvement" in these practices.

CCSW-Certified wineries and vineyards must:

  • Evaluate their operations on a scale of 1 to 4 in 140 vineyard and 104 winery criteria in the California Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Workbook annually.
  • Meet a minimum score threshold.
  • Meet 58 vineyard prerequisites and 37 winery prerequisites from the Code Workbook criteria to be eligible for the program.
  • Verify the accuracy of their evaluations and practices during a third-party audit.
  • Demonstrate continuous improvement in the adoption of sustainable practices on an annual basis. 
  • Vineyards must measure and record water use and nitrogen applied annually. Wineries must measure and record water use, energy use, and greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) annually.

How does a vineyard or winery demonstrate continuous improvement?

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In addition to meeting the minimum sustainable practice requirements, all certified vineyards and wineries must demonstrate continuous improvement in the adoption of sustainable practices on an annual basis. Auditor verifies methodology for identifying and prioritizing areas for improvement and written action plans are created to document the implementation of additional sustainable practices every year. There are several ways to demonstrate improvement. For example:

  • Achievement of action plan objectives, such as reducing energy use by 10%;
  • Achievement of higher category scores for Code workbook criteria;
  • Improvement of performance within a category score; and
  • Implementation of new equipment, technology or practices that maintain or improve performance with reduced environmental or social impact and/or at lower cost.

Improvements can be shown to an auditor during a site visit, noted in the SWP online system by uploading documentation or photos, or through direct communications.

What are the goals of the certification program?

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CSWA's goals for the certification program are to enhance transparency, encourage statewide participation, and advance the entire California wine industry toward best practices in environmental stewardship, natural resources conservation and socially equitable business practices.

How do sustainable practices benefit consumers and California?

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Wine consumers can have the satisfaction of knowing they are supporting vineyards and wineries that are socially and environmentally responsible in conserving water, energy and land, protecting air and water quality, and enhancing relations with employees and communities. California's wine industry is also serving as a model for other wine regions and agricultural sectors. Consumers who live in and visit California benefit from supporting businesses that create open space and rural beauty. Enhanced wine quality is another benefit of the industry's adoption of best practices – such as drip irrigation, canopy management, knowledge of wine quality and viticultural improvements – from the Code Workbook.

Sustainable winegrowing has been practiced by California vintners and growers for decades, and conserves the state's limited natural resources, enhances environmental quality, and contributes economically and socially to the state. California's booming population has increased competition for land, water, energy and other resources. By adopting sustainable practices, winegrowers are demonstrating their responsible use of these resources and their performance as a good neighbor. California wine will always be tied to the land as a signature industry of the state.

How does sustainable winegrowing certification relate to organic and biodynamic certification?

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Sustainable winegrowing can be viewed as an umbrella concept, or as a larger circle in a series of concentric circles, where there is overlap with organic and biodynamic principles and practices, yet each have characteristics that make them unique. The comprehensive SWP promotes over 200 best practices for the environment and communities from grapes to glass. In addition to earth-friendly methods for vineyards and surrounding ecosystems, sustainability includes energy efficiency, protection of air and water quality, enhanced relations with employees and neighbors, environmentally preferred purchasing, among many others. 

How do I find CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE wineries and vineyards?

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CSWA maintains a list of all the CCSW-Certified wineries and vineyards on its website. Individual certified participants may also list their certification status on their websites and marketing materials.

Who developed the certification program?

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The Sustainable Winegrowing Joint Committee (made up of over 50 growers and vintners who are members of Wine Institute and/or the California Association of Winegrape Growers) helped to develop the certification program over the course of 3 years, which was originally launched in 2010.

The program also went through an extensive stakeholder review process in 2015-2016 to update the certification requirements to allow for the use of the certification logo on the bottle (a communication method that was not previously available to certified participants). This effort was largely driven by increasing market demand for sustainably grown and produced wine. Certified vineyards and wineries must meet defined requirements that are verified annually by third-party accredited auditors in order to achieve and maintain certification.

CSWA also worked closely with sustainability experts and with a dedicated group of stakeholders, including the Joint Committee, government agencies, academia, non-governmental organizations, and other experts during the development and update of the program. These stakeholders have provided extensive review of all three editions of the California Code of Sustainable Winegrowing and the certification program.

Who are the independent, third party auditors?

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CSWA has invited experienced auditors with demonstrated knowledge about winegrowing and sustainability management to apply for CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE accreditation.  Accredited auditors must attend initial training on the certification requirements and also attend annual training programs as part of CSWA's commitment to continuous improvement.  CSWA encourages auditors accredited by other third-party certification programs (i.e. CCOF, ISO 14001, ISO 9001, regional wine sustainability programs) to apply for accreditation.  A list of accredited auditors is available on the CSWA website and provides qualifications and background for each accredited auditor.