I happen to really like good wine. A few months back, my wife and I took a trip to Northern California, where we had the opportunity to partake in some very good wine indeed. While we were there, we also learned about different applications of organics in the winemaking world. The experience caused me to alter my appreciation for what qualifies as “organic”. Being an environmentally friendly wine drinker, I had occasionally asked about “organic” wine, but had liked none of them. One result of the trip was that I expanded what I mean by “organic” wine—and for that matter, sustainable wine or even my broader desire to drink environmentally friendly wine—if such a thing exists.
This is primarily due to some conversations we had with passionate winemakers. Our first stop was the Arrowood Winery. We asked the counter person about “organic wines”, and his answer was quite interesting, He differentiated at some length between grapes that are grown organically, which his are, and organic wines, which Arrowood’s are not. For example, they would not use pesticides. However, they will add sulfites, which are not really organic. However, sulfites preserve the wine. One of the big features of great wine is the ability to age well. And given the amount of time some wines have sat in my cooler at home, this is a pretty important consideration. For the record, nearly all wines (except for the organics) add sulfites. It is not a big deal (unless you are allergic to them).
Our next stop was the Benzinger winery. Their claim to fame is biodynamic wine, which I had never heard of before. The general idea is this; “The grapes in these wines are farmed based on a holistic idea that the plants, land, and animals are a self-sustaining system. Farming emphasizes compost use, the exclusion of chemical fertilizers, and the use of the lunar cycle in seed-sowing.” (Quotation from http://www.examiner.com/x-8215-Boulder-Wine-Examiner~y2009m4d16-The-ecofriendly-wine-choice–sustainability-buzzwords-decoded).
As if to illustrate biodynamic farming in action, the tour guide also explained in detail the relative sunshine patterns of the various hills on the property, and how the resulting grapes differed. He also directed our attention to the Benzinger lawn mowing and insect control at the same time. The mowing crew looked very happy to be working that day. But I guess the sheep doing the actual mowing were pretty content because they got fresh grass to eat that day. There was also an insect area in the middle of the vineyard that attracted good insects to come and eat the pests. (This is actually an application of Integrated Pest Management being used in many organic-oriented farms.)
Before my trip to California, I tended to equate “environmentally friendly” wine with the “organic” label. Also, I was concerned that I could by definition not buy a “sustainable” wine if the vineyard was across the country (or world). But after learning how these two particular wineries grew their grapes, and produced their wines, I began to broaden my “environmentally friendly” definition. Both of these wineries practice various sorts of “organic” and “sustainable” farming practices. Both are very proud of their relationship to the specific (land) area they are located in. Both strongly believe in the concept of “terrior” (the special characteristics that geography bestowed upon the wines from a particular region–http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terroir).
If a producer has that kind of relationship to their land, and is trying to celebrate it in the wine, I should give them credit—no matter where they are. For this product, (wine), I am on solid sustainable ground if I focus on theses types of wineries. (Hopefully they pay their workers a good wage and actively support their local communities as well).