Bonterra didn't make a public announcement about it, but the winery has now dropped its Demeter biodynamic certification, instead opting for Regenerative Organic Alliance certification.
Asked for comment, Bonterra's PR team provided remarks from Clint Nelson, Director of Viticulture:
"We believe in Regenerative Organic Certified for the future of our business and have a philosophical alignment with the Regenerative Organic Alliance.
ROC not only builds on CCOF organic certification which we’ve long held, but also includes a strong emphasis on and requirements around social fairness. We cannot leave farmers and workers out of the conversation and expect to create a meaningful difference in agriculture, and Regenerative Organic Certified provides a clear framework for that.
Finally, Regenerative Organic Certified codifies the word regenerative, which is at risk of becoming another sustainability adjective without true meaning. For these reasons, the decision was made to focus on Regenerative Organic Certification for our Mendocino County Estate vineyards and winery, and not Biodynamic."
The three estate vineyards are currently ROC at the silver level, but are actively transitioning to the gold standard, a spokesperson said. The social fairness standards under the gold standard are quite a bit higher than under the silver standard (which is why so few wineries are certified currently at the gold standard).
Consumer research has shown that social fairness is a very important factor, but for the most part claims among sustainability groups have not actually provided data about worker input, until ROC came along. One winery I interviewed who is gold certified said they thought they would be paying workers more, and wine prices would reflect those increased costs. However, they said, paying more allowed them to get and retain better farmworkers and outcompete others in their region for labor.
History: Bonterra's 23 Years of Biodynamic Viticulture
Bonterra was a biodynamic leader beginning back in 1994 when the Fetzer family hired Dave Koball to convert the vines from organic to biodynamic. Until last year there were 290 estate acres under biodynamic certification, making the vines some of the longest certified biodynamic vines in California, beginning with Jimmy Fetzer certfying the McNab Ranch in 1996. That was a run of 23 uninterrupted years of biodynamic viticulture.
One source said a factor in Bonterra's decision to switch to ROC was related to yields. According to another expert, Demeter requires growers to use an NPK calculator (page 16) that limits the quantity of fertility inputs allowed, even for compost.
The Demeter farming standard says, "The maximum amount of nitrogen and phosphorous that may be applied by way of fertilizers used, averaged over the crop rotation, may not exceed the amount that would be produced by those animals which the farm could support by its own irrigated (if necessary) forage production... This is the equivalent of 100 lbs. N/acre and 87 lbs. P/acre applied to the total acreage in the crop rotation."
Other biodynamic vineyards have adopted ROC but have not dropped their biodynamic certification. That includes Neal Family Vineyards, Tablas Creek, and Troon. Other wineries dropped biodynamic certification but retained regular organic certification–Grimm's Bluff in Santa Barbara County, Truett Hurst and Ampelos.
Little academic research has been done to document soil health differences between ROA and biodynamic, though anecdotally, biodynamics appears to be beneficial in soil health and resilience. In interviews I've conducted with many biodynamic growers (who were formerly organic), they state that biodynamic viticulture increased resilience, especially in response to climate stressors.
Certification, Wine Reputation and Wine Standards
Originally designed by Rodale Institute for row crops, ROA was not created to serve wineries, but was able to leverage biodynamic pioneer and wine industry veteran Paul Dolan's knowledge to adapt its programs to accommodate wineries.
One bone of contention with wineries and ROC has been ROC's no till requirement (originated by Rodale) which several winery specific, academic studies dispute.
Biodynamic certification in the wine industry has been associated with high levels of qualities for decades and many celebrated producers proudly point to their Demeter or Biodyvin certification. It is a widespread global standard (however misunderstood it is).
ROC is new territory without association to hundreds of the most prestigious wineries in the world. However, anyone can use biodynamic practices without being certified and that certainly includes ROC wineries.
Demeter has two wine processing standards so producers can opt to be more transparent about winemaking practices and bottle label those certifications (2 types). ROC uses the standard national organic wine certification standards (3 types) which are both broader and less granular, enabling producers to bottle label wine as "ingredients: organic grapes" with fewer winemaking standards. Demeter has never allowed "ingredients: biodynamic grapes" on bottle labels.