Sustainable Winemaking. What is sustainable? It’s a word we hear a lot these days. The dictionary definition is “to be able to continue over a period of time”. When we asked our Viticulturist Bruno Friesen his definition, he replied “It comes down to knowing about where we are living now and how we can co-exist with the environment that surrounds us. It means investing back into the soil and the environment so that we can be perpetuating it.”

What does SWO mean? 

How does sustainable pertain to wine? To be certified with the Sustainable Winemaking Ontario Certified Winery (SWO) designation, participating wineries are audited annually to ensure they are adhering to environmentally sustainable practices in their winemaking operations. Best practices include conservation of water, reduction in waste and waste water and implementation of energy efficiency programs including use of sustainable power sources.

Sustainable Winemaking Ontario Certified Winery designation for Pelee Island Winery on Pelee Island.

Pelee Island Winery is one of only 5 Ontario wineries that is both SWO Winery and Vineyard certified.

Certified Ontario wineries must also produce VQA wines, which are always made from 100% locally grown grapes. Local wines inherently have a smaller carbon footprint and also play a vital role in preserving local economies. They are an integral part of a community’s economic health and are woven into their fabric.

When choosing VQA wines from a Sustainable Winemaking Ontario Certified winery, you are supporting your local economy, community and a cleaner environment.

The Wild Side

One of Pelee Island Winery’s sustainable practices include cultivating the wild space between the vines. What one may think is a great big mess has to be looked at in a different light.  In between the rows of grape vines in Pelee Island Winery’s vineyards, you’ll see beautiful yellow carpets of gold.

By not breaking up the soil, a permanent carpet is created and not as much carbon is released. When the natural cycle is not disrupted, the grape plants feeler roots go deeper down into the soil. This enables them to explore that mineral layer we have on Pelee Island and to absorb some of the terroir of the land into the grapes.

Working Together Naturally

Alfalfa proves to have more than just this purpose.  It also fixes nitrogen into the soil but more importantly, is its capacity to capture nutrients. The roots exude certain nutrients around them and can actually dissolve rock particles so that it is absorbed into the plant’s system. All of this is brought to the surface of the plant which we cut and make compost from. 

At the same time, you have its root masses in the ground that open up the earth, totally changing the structure of the soil. It creates a totally different habitat and ecological system that’s alive and stays alive. Instead of killing everything and starting fresh each season, we only use a little flush of nitrogen and that’s it. 

“We only apply a third of the nitrogen others use because we don’t need to. We put right next to the plant and we don’t fertilize the entire ground. Then we can put micronutrients in,” says Friesen. â€śWe started in 2000, with one field and it was always our best producing field. In 2010, this is how we did all the vineyards. In 2013 we had the largest crop ever and continue to grow.”

Let it Be

Alfalfa compost use for sustainable winery practices at Pelee Island Winery on Pelee Island.
Alfalfa Compost

“As farmers it’s thought we always need to dig up and cultivate the soil but we don’t do that. The soil between the rows stays sodded permanently with alfalfa and other indicator plants that each have their time in the season to report how the vines are doing.”

Not to be outdone by their roots for usefulness, alfalfa is harvested for compost also.

“All the nutrients – phosphate, calcium, potassium – that have been extracted, now exist return to the soil as compost. It’s the ultimate recycling,” says Friesen.  

Working more with nature means you’re going to support a natural habitat for others as well. Earth worms are one example. They are the ones who will cultivate, moving things in and out as well as up and down in the soil. They are master mixologists and help us keep everything good in the ground. 

From Vine to Glass

VegeCert certified vegan logo designation for Pelee Island Winery
Pelee Island Winery Core VQA Ontario wines

You’ll find this regard for the environment in our wine making too. Since 2016, our VQA wines have been vegan. Moving forward in 2020, all of our VQA vintages will be VegeCert as well. What does VegeCert mean? It means products that contain no animal or animal by-products whatsoever including dairy and eggs.

Creating wines that we can be proud of for both their taste experience and for having worked in harmony with the environment continue to guide us throughout all of our growing and business practices.

From Vineyard to Community

Pelee Island Team Members and Families at Kingsville's Migration Festival Parade in Fall 2019.
Pelee Island Team Members and Families at Kingsville’s Migration Festival Parade in Fall 2019.

Sustainably Certified Ontario wineries must also be good neighbours and cultivate positive relationships with their communities. This means being leaders in social responsibility in addition to being committed to producing authentic regional wines. VQA wines are a cornerstone of local food cultures that should be preserved for generations to come.

At Pelee Island Winery, in addition to sustainable winemaking, we do our very best to support our community and strive to work together with our neighbours to ensure these values resonate and guide us.

From being active members in local organizations such as EPIC Wineries and Eat Drink Dine Kingsville, to creating programming that touches a larger portion of the community, as does our 2020 Food Bank donations, we are grateful for the opportunity to contribute.


Pssttt… Don’t forget while you’re here to sign up for our Birthday Club and receive a $20 Gift Voucher for your Birthday!