“Certified Sustainably Grown” is coming soon to wine labels thanks to the efforts of the Central Coast Vineyard Team (CCVT) in Paso Robles, Calif. The certification will enable growers and winemakers to label their brands as truly sustainable.

“There are a lot of people out there making claims about sustainability, but this is a third-party verification of those claims,” says Kris O’Connor, executive director of CCVT.

The program evolved from CCVT’s “Positive Points” system that was a self-assessment program for growers. Over a period of four years, CCVT wrote the standards based on extensive peer review involving governmental, environmental, social, agricultural, and academic representatives.

“We’ve been doing self-assessments with the growers since the mid‘90s,” O’Connor says. “We’ve evaluated 30,000 acres and have had hundreds of growers involved with the program.”

Initially, 12 growers will go through the process this year in a pilot program. They will be required to answer detailed questions and provide documentation to back up their answers. Most importantly, they will be independently audited.

“Site audits are beginning on July 21, and we’re hoping to have our first growers certified for the ’08 vintage,” O’Connor says.

The pilot program audits are being funded by two grants from the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

“In the future the grower will be responsible for the audit fees, but we’re working to get the cost as low as possible,” O’Connor says. “We want to remove as many barriers as possible for participation. The licensing fee, artwork, use of the seal and other elements of the program will be scaled to operation size. The costs will be very competitive to other certification programs such as ‘Certified Organic’ and others.”

Unlike other programs that are limited to a certain crush district, the “Certified Sustainable” label can be utilized in all growing regions. “We’re not branding this as ‘Central Coast’,” O’Connor says. “Anybody from any region could use our standards.”