Oregon’s eco-conscious wine industry got a new player on Earth Day when the wraps came off the Ashland-based website ConsciousWine.
Part educational site and part e-commerce hub, the gorgeously designed ConsciousWine.com is aimed at teaching consumers about well-made, earth-friendly wines that line up with principles including sustainable farming, organically grown grapes and great taste.
And the website may become the platform to launch the West Coast’s eco-friendly answer to Gary Vaynerchuk.
Like Vaynerchuck, who leveraged social media to become the ubiquitous everyman of fine wine, ConsciousWine founder Jeff Weissler is a passionate wine guy.
Also like Vaynerchuck, Weissler happens to be a fast-talking East Coaster, a recent transplant to southern Oregon.
Weissler professes a love of what he calls “vital” wines — one of ConciousWine’s core principles.
“Vital products have a life force,” Weissler said. “Making a wine that is delicious on the first sip takes a lot of manipulation. (Vital) wines unwind when they hit air, they take time to stretch.”
In talking about how he came to launch ConsciousWine, he wends his way through topics including a stay at a raw food detox health center, the book “Cradle to Cradle” by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, and the Pachamama Alliance.
He’ll also tell you that as a long-time wine store manager in suburban New York, Weissler became annoyed by two things: wines from all over the world starting to taste the same and wines with an organic label tasting bad.
“What I want to do is empower consumers to know what’s behind the label,” Weissler said.
Thus, he developed the four principles of ConsciousWine and created an educational website. Twenty Oregon wineries have made the ConsciousWine list — seven of them are “featured” on the website including Brick House, Brooks, Cowhorn Vineyards, Dominio IV, Maysara, Montinore and Wooldridge Creek.
Weissler is not a fan of wine-industry certification. There are too many of them, he said, and they are contradictory and confusing.
Oregon has given birth to at least three such certifications:
• The Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine label piggy-backs on a quartet of other industry certifications. Two of ConsciousWine’s featured wineries also turn up on the Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine website: Montinore Estate and Wooldridge Creek.
• Salem-based Low-Input Viticulture and Enology Inc., or LIVE is one of OCSW’s partners and certifies sustainable wineries. Last year it was charged with administering a program incubated by the Oregon Environmental Council for wineries that have successfully shrunk their carbon footprint. The only LIVE-certified winery that appears on the ConsciousWine featured list is Wooldridge Creek.
• The Portland-based Salmon Safe certification, another OCSW partner, has been awarded to Brick House and Wooldridge Creek, among many others not featured on ConsciousWine.com.
Weissler’s business partner, Vincent “Vinny” Liscio, is back in New York and runs the numbers side of ConsciousWine. He expects the site to make a modest slice of income on e-commerce sales of conscious wines with the rest coming from advertising and, as he puts it, “other things we’ll sell on the site.”
“Wine is a nice handshake to get you started on your conscious journey,” Liscio said. “We want to reach out past wine eventually.”
Liscio said an up-front investment of about $200,000 went into building the site with an ongoing investment required to produce the videos, podcasts and webinars Weissler plans to use as educational tools.
Bill Steele is co-owner with his wife of Cowhorn Winery, which last year launched a bottle rinse-and-reuse program. Steele said he is happy to see Weissman hanging his Web-based shingle.
“He’s the person who’s going to vet the wineries independently,” he said. “There’s a fair amount of greenwashing going on. … As a consumer, I want to put my money behind green people, not greenwashing.”
And as fast as he can find them, Weissler said, he’ll be adding what he considers to be truly green wineries to his list.