Arsenic Wine Controversy Sheds Light on Shortfalls of “Sustainable” Certifications


Just after reports broke last week that high levels of arsenic were found in many wines from California, Wine Searcher is now reporting that most of the wines containing arsenic are also certified sustainable. Investigation into these wines is also uncovering what exactly is meant by “sustainable” by the California wine industry, and the results are disappointing.

In a lawsuit filed by the Denver lab that found the arsenic, 23 of 83 wines cited were made by members of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA). Of the remaining 50, 33 were made by Trinchero Family Estates, which is certified sustainable under the Lodi Rules sustainability certification program.

The CSWA does not use compliance monitors like most organic and biodynamic certification agencies do, instead they rely on self-reporting. Members of the CSWA are only required to commit to a “process of continuous improvement”—whatever that means. The CSWA allows the use of things like inorganic fertilizers and pesticides that are “toxic to terrestrial and aquatic wildlife,” and could contribute to higher levels of arsenic in soil.

Additionally, the CSWA reports that as of November 2014, 57.24 percent of wine produced in California is made by members of the CSWA, however only 14.22 percent of the vineyards are actually certified sustainable, and of those certified an even smaller number are actually farming without pesticides or fertilizers. [Wine Searcher][Photo: Flickr/Jing]