Buzz: Hey, Marnie, I keep seeing wine labels that talk about "sustainable farming." Is this some kind of code? If normal farming isn't "sustainable," why would anyone keep doing it?

Marnie: That's funny, Buzz. You're right about what sustainable means in plain English. However, regarding agricultural products, the term sustainable is used to describe practices that are more environmentally conscious than conventional farming but that do not meet the rigorous certification requirements for terms like organic or biodynamic. Because this is a fairly new concept, the language is still evolving. I've seen other terms, like earth-friendly and eco-conscious used to convey the same concept.

Buzz: If eco-themed grape lovers are insisting on that kind of stuff, the next step will be protests at wineries that kill grapes.

Marnie: You might not be interested in the environment, but a growing number of wine drinkers are. People want to know how their food and drink are produced.

Buzz: That sounds just like Portlandia.

Marnie: That's a funny TV show, but as long as messages about caring for the environment help sell more wine, you'll keep seeing this language on labels.

But it's not just a marketing ploy. Vintners talk about how carefully they grow their grapes because this is one of the biggest factors affecting the quality of their wine and a major point of distinction among competitors.

Buzz: Does that mean being nicer environmentally can make wine too expensive?

Marnie: Well, it will always be cheapest to farm the conventional way, using chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. However, decades of evidence show that when vineyards are farmed with fewer chemical interventions, not only is it healthier for the land, the workers, and the surrounding environment, but the wine made from that fruit tastes noticeably better.

Buzz: Maybe the good environmental stuff means I can drink more wine than usual, since it's healthier!

Marnie Old is a local sommelier and wine author. Check her out at or on Twitter at @MarnieOld. Buzz's musings are interpreted by Gar Joseph.