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Oethical Oenology – A Look At Ethical Wine

Photo From Castello Banfi Press Kit

A Look At Castello Banfi’s Groundbreaking Ethical Practices And Banfi Vintner’s Ethical Wine Offerings

During the Wine Bloggers Conference, we attended a session run by two professionals from Castello Banfi. Bill Whiting, Banfi’s Director of Wine Education, and Joe Janish, its Director of Public Relations educated wine bloggers about Lambrusco: a red grape used to make the insanely popular frizzante.  From learning about the geography and grape to tasting a variety of lambrusco wines the session was great but what really piqued our interest were mentions of a variety of ethical practices to which Castello Banfi and its partners ascribe.  We took some time to talk to Joe Janish and dig into exactly what Catello Banfi and Banfi Vintners do in the arena of ethical wine.

What is Banfi?

There are two things to which someone might be referring when they mention “Banfi”. There’s Castello Banfi, the vineyard making fine wines in Italy, and there’s Banfi Vintners, the importer and marketer of fine wines which is located in the sleepy New York City suburb of Old Brookville.

What Are The Ethical Issues Surrounding Wine?

As consumers, especially millennials, are becoming more aware of environmental and social issues, buying practices have changed. Just think about your local grocery stores, packages in your pantry, and restaurant menus… how many use terms like free range, organic, fair trade, recylce(d)(able), and vegan? What do these terms have in common? They all refer to how animals, people, and resources are used.

Environmental concerns are also huge: many people have switched to carrying a refillable water bottle rather than buying bottled water – because we all know those bottles end up in landfills. And speaking of water, water use and conservation is another major concern for consumers.

Sadly, it’s not just golf courses that can be blamed for huge use of water, but also vineyards, who have often come under fire for their use of the resource. But as times and tastes are changing, companies with a pulse on what’s important to consumers are focusing on production methods that address ethics as they apply to people, resources, and the earth. Castello Banfi/Banfi Vintners is one of those companies. Let’s look at the many ways Banfi is addressing these major issues, and some of the ethical wines they are producing and importing.

Taking Steps To Reduce Their Carbon Footprint

A carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds emitted through the use of fossil fuels. These chemical compounds are often referred to as “greenhouse gases” and are directly tied to climate change. With the media and others focused on climate change more consumers have been aware of this growing issue and moving toward simple changes like alternative energy and cars that are hybrid or electric. Castello Banfi takes carbon emissions and their harmful effects seriously and has taken significant measures to reduce their own footprint. In fact, Cristina Mariana-May, co-CEO of Banfi Vitners was recognized as one of the twenty most influential women in business by Food & Wine.

Reducing Water Use and Ground Contamination

All agriculture uses water and because vineyards are large, there is significant water use. May vineyards are located near rivers and lakes where water can be easily accessed. In addition to using water, much of what goes back into the ground is contaminated with a variety of chemicals be they fertilizers or cleaning agents.

Castello Banfi is a leader and example of responsible practices when it comes to using water. Co-CEO Cristina Mariana-May had this to say, “Water conservation is vitally important to my family at Castello Banfi, Montalcino. Over the years, the need to optimize the usage of water necessary for emergency irrigation of the vineyards has led Castello Banfi to shift from the traditional sprinkling irrigation to micro-irrigation, which currently is used on almost all the single vineyards on our Montalcino estate. This method uses almost 80% less water than the traditional sprinkling system. By collecting rainwater in natural water reservoirs and carefully managing water resources through micro-irrigation, Banfi keeps water drawing from the rivers Orcia and Ombrone to a minimum. These rivers comprise the natural borders of our Montalcino property. The creation of reservoirs has provided basins that can hold a total of 150 million gallons. Also in our winery we recycle all of our water and we also have created a new technique called a ‘bio bed,’ which is a natural composite that we put on the ground to collect the left over water after washing our farm equipment. This bio bed absorbs all the soap and materials from washing so that only cleaner water is seeped back into the earth.”

If you’re interested in trying a wine made with water conservation in mind, we at Winedom have tried and love Banfi Tuscany Col di Sasso Cabernet Savignon – Sangiovese Blend. Share a simple dinner of pasta, pizza or any grilled meats with some friends and a few bottles – the taste will perfectly complement your meal.

Promoting Sustainable Wine Making

Sustainable. It’s a term that gets kicked around quite a bit but what does it mean? In scientific terms it means the ability of an organism to live. In the wine world sustainability is tied to farming. Here, sustainability is the growing, manufacturing, and producing of wine and wine packaging using methods that protect the environment, public health, human communities and animal welfare.

Banfi Vintners imports several wines that are ethical including those from Pacific Rim Winemakers. Located in Washington State, Pacific Rim focuses primarily on making Riesling that is crisp and interesting. While most of their production is of Rieslings they also make other white varietals: Gewurztraminer, Chenin Blanc, and Gruner Veltliner.

No matter what the varietal, Pacific Rim Winery is raising the bar on sustainable wine making. Some of the practices Pacific Rim has in place include:

  • Banning the use of pesticides
  • Using humanely raised sheep to keep weeds in check
  • Controlling water usage by not watering excessively, having operations that use water efficiently. In fact, Pacific Rim ranks in the wine industry as one of the most water conserving.
  • Producing eco-conscious bottles. Pacific Rim uses low-weight glass in their bottles. This results in 33% less carbon emissions than standard bottles. Because the bottles are made from low-weight glass 25% more can be packed onto each truck, reducing emissions from transport. 75% of the materials used in the bottles are made from recycled materials.

Pacific Rim doesn’t just use sustainable processes because it’s on-trend but because it is integral to their value system. In fact it’s not just an active member of Wine Wise, a sustainability non-profit in Washington State, but also a founding member.


Biodynamic farming has been around for a long time but recently it has gained some momentum in the wine world. Biodynamics are described by those who practice it as a “holistic approach to agriculture.” Developed by Rudolph Steiner, biodynamic farming uses lunar cycles and constellation locations to determine planting and cultivation cycles and has a tremendous focus on composting. The calendar also reflects each day’s connection to one of the four elements (earth, air, fire water) and that dictates planting and cultivation cycles. Rather than use traditional fertilizer, biodynamic farmers create preparations that are mixed into compost and soil or sprayed onto crops. The idea is that agriculture should not deplete nutrients and stress the earth but rather the two should work in concert. The belief is that by using the earth’s natural rhythms each harvest will be of premium quality.

Is Biodynamic The Same As Organic?

Biodynamic, organic, vegetarian, vegan… how do we keep them all straight? And are they the same. A quick rundown of these terms:

  • Vegetarian: does not contain the meat of an animal
  • Vegan: does not contain any product that comes from an animal (flesh, milk) or use any product in the making of the item (honey, white sugar… these are not vegan).
  • Organic: Does not use synthetics. No pesticides, insecticides, fertilizers, herbicides, and fungicides are used.
  • Biodynamic: Organic but also uses astronomy and holistic principals combined with the traditional farming methods.

Simply: All biodynamic wines are organic, but not all organic wines are biodynamic. Additionally, strict vegans might not consider biodynamic wines vegan. Why not? Because of the preparations often used in the biodynamic process. These are made of a variety of flowers and herbs (yarrow and valerian flowers, chamomile and dandelion blossoms, stinging nettle, and oak bark) but are encased in animal organs or horns. While not used in the wine produced, because these animal products are used as part of the winemaking process the wine does not meet the strictest definition of vegan.

If you are interested in trying a biodynamic wine, Banfi Vintners imports wine from Chile’s Emiliana Vineyards. Emiliana Vineyards prides itself on significant sustainability measures, producing South America’s first certified biodynamic wine, and growing organically.  These ethical wines come in three reds and a white varietal.

When you’re interested in buying products that are made with the well being of nature, people, and animals in mind there are several exceptional options. Consider a bottle from Castello Banfi who focus on water conservation or one of the wines imported by Banfi Wines. Pacific Rim has sustainable, complex whites across a spectrum of varietals while you can enjoy delicious biodynamic red and white wine from Emiliana Vineyards in Chile. Ask for these wines at your local grocer, wine shop or online!

Were you aware of ethical wines? If you’ve tried them, which do you like? If you’re someone who shops for ethical products will you look for a bottle from Castello Banfi, Pacific Rim, or Emiliana on your next trip to purchase wine? Talk to us in the comments or on Twitter!

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