Note: There are 23 member wineries in the SLO Coast Wine Collective that are Sip Certified, Certified Organic, Certified Demeter Biodynamic, or source from vineyards that are. Keep scrolling for info.
In recent years, there is not only consumer demand for knowing how your food is farmed, but the health of farmworkers and neighbors to farms is also something that demands transparency. For many SLO Coast vineyards, the decision to farm and produce wines using sustainable, organic, and biodynamic practices is part of their brand’s DNA and for others, it is a practice they adopted in recent years to ensure healthy vines and wines for years to come.
Not all wine is created equal, nor are all grapes grown equally in the vineyard. Many wineries throughout the San Luis Obispo Coast farm their vineyards and make their wines “sustainably,” meaning they choose to save water, encourage biodiversity, take care of their workers and give tasters wines that do no harm to Mother Earth.
Sustainable Vineyards and Wineries on the SLO Coast
Sustainability addresses the 3 P’s – People, Planet, Prosperity – ensuring that both natural and human resources are protected. Holistic practices address habitat, water, energy, soil, recycling, air quality, packaging, pest management, social equity, and business management. Sustainability certification is determined by third party organizations (e.g. SIP Certified) and certified vineyards and wineries must adhere to a rigorous set of standards that are verified by a third-party inspector.
1. Baileyana Winery (SIP Certified)
Back in 1909 local farm workers in Edna Valley constructed the Independence Schoolhouse in what was then empty farmland. Today that land is rich with wine grapes stretching as far as the eye can see. Baileyana wines can be sampled in that same schoolhouse; a bright, airy place with idyllic views of vineyards. This winery grows over 10 different grape varieties in their SIP Certified Paragon Vineyard. The SIP Certified seal indicates the commitment on behalf of the team to preserving and protecting the natural environment, treating employees and community with care, and sound business practices with a long-term outlook. At the Schoolhouse you’ll find over 25 SIP Certified sustainable wines, including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc.
Visit Bailenaya online.
2. Center of Effort (SIP Certified)
Center of Effort represents a unique location that has touched many lives. “Our respect for the vineyard and its unique environment is reflected with emphasis on sustainable viticulture, natural fermentation and other non-invasive, progressive winemaking practices,” says winemaker Nathan Carlson. “To craft the finest wines possible, we ensure that the highest standards are set at every step in the winemaking process. We believe the resulting Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and estate wines are without parallel. They represent the intersection of care-taking, skill and commitment,” he says. Center of Effort produces Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and a Rosé of Pinot Noir. They offer a regular tasting and an Estate Tour and Cellar Tasting, which includes a more in-depth look at their facilities along with light foods to accompany the sustainable wines.
Visit Center of Effort online.
3. Chamisal Vineyards (SIP Certified, working towards Demeter Biodynamic certification)
Chamisal Vineyards has been SIP (Sustainability in Practice) certified in the vineyards since 2010 and we were the the second-ever winery to be SIP-certified in 2016, though the winery has always gone above and beyond the requirements to maintain the health of our vineyards and improve biodiversity in the area.
To achieve SIP Certified for a winery, the company must undergo an in-depth assessment of their entire facility operations. This includes a rigorous evaluation of a variety of items including (but not limited to) facility establishment and management, energy uses, water efficiency, purchasing, recycling and waste reduction, marketing materials, event needs, and landscape decisions. All elements of social equity and financial sustainability are also taken into account, as with the current vineyard certification program.
In 2020, Chamisal began a shift towards biodynamic practices and have introduced numerous regenerative agricultural measures including the installation of a Miyawaki forest and community vegetable garden that is farmed on behalf of the San Luis Obispo Food Bank.
In the vineyard, they foster a healthy population of birds and owls for natural predation of unwanted pests, they have eliminated the use of herbicides, utilize cover crops to increase biodiversity, and irrigate with recaptured winery processed water. They generate 25% of our electrical power from solar panels and have an extensive system of moisture probes and sensors to reduce our water usage in the vineyard.
Visit Chamisal online.
4. Claiborne & Churchill (SIP Certified)
Claiborne & Churchill is a small, premium family-owned winery in the Edna Valley of San Luis Obispo, founded in 1983 by Claiborne (Clay) Thompson and Fredericka Churchill Thompson. Former teachers at the University of Michigan, the couple left the “Groves of Academe” for the vineyards of California in 1981 in order to begin a new life in the wine industry.
With its first crush Claiborne & Churchill announced its special focus, producing 565 cases of Dry Riesling and Dry Gewürztraminer, inspired by the fruity but dry dinner wines of the French province of Alsace. Today Claiborne & Churchill produces about 8,000 cases of wine each year, sourcing grapes from vineyards in the cool maritime valleys of California’s Central Coast and its own small estate vineyards.
Claiborne & Churchill’s two-acre Estate Riesling Vineyard planted in the spring of 2005 is officially SIP (Sustainability in Practice) Certified. In keeping with this philosophy, Claiborne & Churchill is committed to making sustainable wine, conserving and protecting the environment, treating employees, neighbors and community with care while maintaining sound business practices.
Visit Claiborne & Churchill online.
5. Laetitia Vineyard & Winery (SIP Certified)
For wineries like Laeititia, sustainability is at the core of everything they do. Laetitia was one of the first SIP Certified vineyards and continues to evolve their practices. They use goats instead of herbicide for weed control and ensure that all of their employees receive a comprehensive benefits package, and contribute to the community in which they work, live and play.
Visit Laetitia online.
6. Niner Wine Estates (SIP Certified)
Blueberries and Ghosts – Andy Niner, Owner
The outline for Andy Niner’s unwritten biography goes something like this: Connecticut Childhood; College in Maine; Boston Finance; SLO Shades; Berkeley MBA; San Francisco Levis; and Makin’ Wine in California. This last section started in 2013 when Andy took over his family’s winery in Paso Robles. Armed with the conviction that quality mattered, the team at Niner Wine Estates has systematically replaced and upgraded vineyards, expanded the winery’s sustainable farming and winemaking programs, and created a reserve line of wines (including sustainable wine) to showcase incredible fruit from their three estate vineyards. In 2014, Niner opened a restaurant at the winery followed by a Chef’s Garden, an estate olive oil brand, a barrel-aged coffee program and a chicken coop for farm-fresh eggs. In 2016, Niner became the first winery to receive the SIP Certified Sustainable Winery designation. Beyond work, Andy enjoys hiking, climbing, skiing, backpacking, cooking and hitting the farmers market with daughter Cora.
“My daughter Cora has a sixth sense for wine. She says our Malbec smells like blueberries and ghosts.”
Visit Niner online.
7. Talley Vineyards (SIP Certified)
We Got Your Fruits and Vegetables – Brian Talley, Grapegrower
The Talley Family has been growing vegetables in the Arroyo Grande Valley since 1948. In 1982 they planted a test plot of grapes on the west hillside of what is now their Rincon Vineyard. A successful first vintage convinced them to plant additional acreage in both the Arroyo Grande Valley and Edna Valley. The Talleys now farm more than 150 acres of SIP Certified vineyards along the cool, hilly coastline of San Luis Obispo County. Today the winery is owned and operated by Brian Talley and his wife Johnine. Their hard work has helped establish the San Luis Obispo Coast region as one of the leading places in California for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, including sustainable wine.
“More than 30 years ago we began a tradition of delivering produce from our farm to our best winery customers. I love the look on people’s faces when I show up with a box of peppers and avocados instead of a case of Chardonnay or Pinot Noir.”
Visit Talley online.
8. Timbre Winery (SIP Certified)
For Joshua Klapper of Timbre Winery, the decision to source fruit from certified sustainable vineyards was one that was forward thinking, “As a business centered in agriculture, and parents to young children, we felt it was important to support efforts in sustainably so that we are leaving to our children the best world we can.”
Timbre approaches their whole business from a sustainable perspective and Klapper adds, “We have tried to cut down on waste by doing many small things. We stopped using imported foil capsules on our wine bottles long ago as they served no real purpose except waste. Additionally, for local consumers, we have created a growler program so that people can buy some of our wines in reusable containers.”
It’s really about a collective community for Klapper and he points out that, “I have found that the most interesting and passionate people in the wine business today are proponents of sustainable farming and winemaking. I am proud to be part of a region that holds sustainability in such high regard. A good friend and vineyard manager told me that his focus on sustainability has helped him become a more efficient and better farmer, and I would agree with that assessment based on the countless sustainable vineyards we source at Timbre.”
Visit TIMBRE online.
9. Tolosa (SIP Certified)
Sustainability is at the bedrock of Tolosa Winery’s brand ethos. Also a SIP Certified member, Tolosa is an active member of the community and a steward for social and environmental change. Tolosa marketing manager, Collette Van Gerwen, explains their ever-evolving efforts, “At the beginning of 2020, we became partners with the Porto Protocol and we have pledged to eliminate our use of fossil fuels by the year 2040 – and will absolutely, positively not fail! We schedule annual clothing and food drives as well as beach cleanups. We have a long history of supporting different programs at Cal Poly and we’re starting to explore more opportunities to support local youth programs.”
Visit Tolosa online.
The beauty of sustainable vineyards and wineries as Beth Vukmanic, Program Director of SIP Certified points out, “Sustainability does not have a finish line. Our Standards are a living document; they evolve with new science and technology so can continually improve and raise standards for what it means to be sustainable.”
10. Wolff Vineyards (SIP Certified)
Wolff Vineyards was established 44 years ago by one of the first wine grape-growing pioneers in the Edna Valley. The winery’s focus is on Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Petite Sirah and a rare Italian red variety called Teroldego. The wine tasting facilities include a tasting room, including sustainable wines, and outdoor flower garden suitable for picnics. The tasting room is situated on top of a hill providing unique panoramic views of the Edna Valley. Some of Wolff’s first viticultural experiments involved moving away from conventional farming to more ecologically sustainable practices. The vineyards were one of the test sites for the SIP Certified program. Today, Wolff regularly engage in trials and research projects with Cal Poly and various agricultural and environmental groups. “In how many appellations can you go to the beach, get sand between your toes, then within 15 minutes go wine tasting in a vineyard? You’re going to have a hard time finding that anywhere else,” says owner Jean-Pierre Wolff.
Visit Wolff online.
Biodynamic Farming on the SLO Coast
Biodynamic wine takes a more spiritual and cosmic approach to winemaking adhering to the philosophy that everything in the world is interconnected and the vineyard should be farmed as a single being with a closed system independent of imported materials. Demeter is the certifying body in biodynamic farming. Biodynamic farming follows the lunar calendar which dictates when to perform certain farming practices. No manufactured additives can be added to these wines, soils, etc.
11. Verdad & Lindquist Family (Demeter Biodynamic, Organic, & SIP Certified)
Bob and Louisa Lindquist of Sawyer Lindquist and Verdad wines are passionate about biodynamic farming and appreciate the philosophy of creating balanced growing systems. Bob explains, “We feel that biodynamic farming is the gold standard of organic farming or ‘natural wine’.” He mentions that most consumers understand the principles of organic farming and that Biodynamic really takes those practices to the next level. More importantly he adds, “It’s a natural process with no pesticides, herbicides or fungicides…it’s clean wine!”
Visit Verdad & Lindquist Family online.
12. Sinor-LaVallee (in process of Demeter Biodynamic certification)
Mike Sinor of Sinor-LaVallee Wines, his decision to employ biodynamic farming practices was inspired by a trip to Burgundy in 1996 where it was being experimented with at top domaines. Mike was intrigued by the process and was excited to learn more about it. He farms his Bassi Vineyard organically with biodynamic inputs because as he says, “These practices are observed, first and foremost, because they help make better wine. No stone is unturned in that pursuit. What is great for the wine is also good for the land and the surrounding environment, so the rewards are ample for keeping everything in balance.”
Explaining the practices of Biodynamic farming isn’t always the easiest conversation with consumers and Sinor says, “When people first hear about Biodynamics they get distracted by some of the seemingly strange practices (filling cow horns with cow excrement, burying them according to the moon/planets then spraying that material in homeopathic levels) In the end anyone who appreciates the Farmers Almanac and has an open mind will learn its not that strange.”
Visit Sinor-LaVallee online.
The SLO Coast Wines commitment to the environment and the overall wellbeing of its people and lasting effect on the world is evident in the passion that many of these winemakers and vintners have for the land. Applying the practices of sustainable agriculture, organic farming, and biodynamic methods create structure and provide a roadmap for farming for a better future. As our world continues to change and evolve, we can find comfort in the folks of SLO Coast Wines doing their part to respect and honor the land they farm and the wines they work with.
13. Absolution Cellars (sources fruit from sustainable/organic vineyards)
14. Aequorea (sources fruit from SIP Certified vineyards)
15. Biddle Ranch (farms sustainably)
Handcrafted in the heart of the Edna Valley, Biddle Ranch is a celebration of belonging to land where doing what fills the soul and lifts the spirit comes naturally. Not that long ago, friends with deep roots in California’s Central Coast planted the seeds to start making wine. What you see now is the labor of love that took these families on a journey into winemaking. Biddle Ranch has been SIP-certified since 2015.
Known for one of the longest ripening seasons in California, winemaker Ryan Deovlet fell in love with the land that holds Biddle Ranch for possessing all the essential conditions for creating balanced, old world style wines. Tending Biddle Ranch’s estate 17 acres of Chardonnay, and sourcing from Santa Ynez, to the Edna and Arroyo Grande Valleys, and up to Paso Robles, he personally hand selects fruit from only the best soil and growing climate for each of their limited-production wines, including their sustainable wine.
Visit Biddle Ranch online.
16. Croma Vera (sources fruit from SIP certified vineyards)
17. El Lugar Wines (sources fruit from SIP Certified vineyards)
18. Kynsi (farms sustainably)
19. Oceano Wines (sources fruit from SIP Certified vineyards)
20. Piedra Creek Winery (in process of SIP Certification)
21. Ragtag Wine Co (sources fruit from SIP Certified vineyards)
22. Saucelito Canyon (farms sustainably)
23. Stephen Ross (farms sustainably and sources fruit from SIP Certified and organic vineyards)