Did you know descriptors, such as “natural,” are unregulated in the wine industry? While legislation has resulted in improved labels on food, the wine industry still leaves consumers wondering what’s in the bottle. Duck Pond Cellars has set out to change that with wines that list ingredients on the label.

Even better, the winery has made several commitments towards sustainable, environmental and organic practices that put the brand ahead of most others. It has earned the honor of being the first winery in the U.S. to tout the Natural Path Production Certification, a Clean Label Project program. 

Related: An organic Italian winery is updated with sustainable style

I had a chance to ask Julia Cattrall, expert winemaker at Duck Pond Cellars, a few questions about what this means for wine in the U.S. market. Additionally, why Duck Pond is jumping into providing the transparency wine drinkers seek without being required to do so.

Inhabitat: What is required for a wine to be labeled “natural wine?”

Cattrall: Currently, there are many small producer groups in France, Italy and Spain that are supporting and promoting natural wines and creating standards. The Clean Label Project non-profit organization has developed a Code of Practice for natural wine that will help legitimize the Natural Wine Certification standard in the U.S. market.

Clean Label Project Natural certification provides two levels of certification for wine brands electing to have a third party evaluation of “natural.” Clean Label Project Natural Wine Certification captures traditional natural wine best practices including, but not limited to, the exclusive use of organic grapes, indigenous yeasts and minimal additives.

Clean Label Project Natural Path Certification utilizes elements of traditional natural wine production while allowing for some modern wine production techniques including, but not limited to, the exclusive use of glyphosate and neonicotinoid-free grapes, allowance of minimal cultured bacteria and minimal use of added sulfites for shelf-life. The criteria is public and can be found at Clean Label Project.

Inhabitat: What does it mean for a wine to be Natural Path Production Certified?

Cattrall: As Duck Pond wine is a Clean Label Certified Natural Path Production and Purity Award-winning winery in Oregon, we are hard at work building systems of trust with our consumers, communicating our farming and winemaking practices with third-party certifications that ensure purity, listing ingredients on our labels and including nutritional facts. We do not use any animal products in our wines, and our aim is to ensure that what is added or removed from the wines is done using an endogenous and/or natural additive or fining agent, such as the addition of bentonite clay for heat stability in white wines or the addition of yeast extract to soften the texture of the wine.

We hope that by leading the way on sustainability and accountability, we can help move the industry forward, away from systemic pesticides and artificial additives and towards symbiotic relationships with the ecosystems we inhabit and wines of unparalleled purity and quality.

Inhabitat: Until nutritional labels are required on wine, how can consumers learn more about what they are actually consuming?

Cattrall: Unfortunately, until nutritional labels are required, wineries are not required by the TTB to list ingredients and serving facts, so unless wineries such as Duck Pond offer this type of transparency to consumers, there is no way a consumer can actually learn more about what they are actually consuming.

Inhabitat: What is an organic wine vs. a wine “made with organic grapes” and why do we see so few certified organic wines?

Cattrall: The short answer is: If it was easy and economical, everyone would be doing it. There are strict standards that must be adhered to in order to qualify for organic and “made with organic grapes.”

Wine labeled as “organic wine” 

Contains all organic grapes.

Grapes have been grown in accordance with the organic standards established by the USDA National Organic Program (NOP).

Wine has been produced to organic standards in a certified organic facility.

Wine contains no added sulfites. These wines MAY display the USDA organic logo and/or the certifier’s logo.

Wine labeled as “made with organic grapes”

Grapes have been grown in accordance with the organic standards established by the USDA NOP.

Wine contains all organic grapes. 

Wine has been produced to organic standards in a certified organic facility.

May contain up to 100 ppm total sulfites.

Review of Duck Pond Cellars wines

Cheers to a job that sees me tasting wine in order to offer a personal review. Duck Pond sent three bottles of tasty vino for my enjoyment. Now, I’m not a connoisseur, but I do quaff at my leisure and am a member of a few local wine clubs, so I have a reasonable amount of experience in which to offer a comparison. 

In brief, I found all three wines to be delightful. The pinot noir shines as an example of the primary grape the Willamette Valley is known for. This really stands out for its deep red color and flavor that is more reminiscent of a bolder red than the more common lighter noir. I live in the area and appreciate a good pinot noir, but my preferences lean towards big reds like burgundy, cabernet and merlot, so the Duck Pond pinot noir really caught my attention as a variety that can stand up to a pairing with a good steak.  

I’m mostly a red drinker, but the company sent a pinot gris and chardonnay so I willingly sampled and shared both. I was very pleasantly surprised by the gris, typically one of my least-preferred grapes. I would describe it more as a chardonnay with a creamy, buttery finish that mutes the often-harsh (in my opinion) pinot gris. This is a delightfully sippable wine that could be paired with a number of summer foods. 

The chardonnay knocked my socks off. While I’ve dabbled in chardonnay through samplings at wineries up and down the West Coast, this offering is alluring. Even my husband, who refuses all white wines, thoroughly enjoyed it. 

Duck Pond Cellars is located about an hour from my home in Oregon and while I had hoped to visit, I haven’t yet made it. With the samplings and the knowledge about the wine-making process, however, it’s certainly moved up my priority list.

+ Duck Pond Cellars

Images via Duck Pond Cellars and Dawn Hammon 

Editor’s Note: This product review is not sponsored by Duck Pond Cellars. All opinions on the products and company are the author’s own.