- Publish Date: Sep 28, 2010
How Green Is Your Wine?
A look at the basics of environmentally friendly wine.
Walk into just about any wine shop, and there's a special section for organic and biodynamic wines. While there's plenty of room for debate as to whether organic and biodynamic wines taste different, there's no question that many people are confused by what these terms truly mean.
Team Daily Sip to the rescue. Below is a quick guide to the three major green winemaking terms helpful to know. Click on any of them for a full explanation, complete with wine recommendations:
• Sustainable: Winemakers practicing sustainability use as few pesticides and fertilizers possible. The overall objective is to grow a healthy grape crop with minimal environmental impact. Learn more.
• Organic: Requirements for certification can vary from country to country. Usually "certified organic" means that the grapes were grown without the use of man-made pesticides or fertilizers. If you're a stickler about sulfites in your wine, "organic wine" means none were added for preservation (although sulfites are naturally occurring in fermentation). Learn more.
• Biodynamic: This is organic farming taken to a higher level, with all the vineyard work done in sync with the Earth's rhythms as well as cosmic cycles. Compost is created in the vineyard, and some growers even use horses instead of tractors. Learn more.
• Sustainable Winegrowing
Sustainability is a practice that allows for the use of man-made agricultural chemicals, but the overall objective is to grow a healthy grape crop with minimal environmental impact. Growers use as few pesticides and fertilizers possible.
The world's leading viticulture and winemaking school, University of California-Davis, defines sustainable agriculture as integrating "three main goals--environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity." Many sustainable wineries incorporate practices used by organic and biodynamic wineries, and even incorporate other green initiatives as well.
For example, California's Parducci winery is carbon-neutral, uses 100% renewable energy and conserves and recycles its water. Other California wineries that practice similar levels of sustainability are Shafer, CADE and Hall Winery.
Another sustainable, carbon-zero line of wines that's worth trying is Grove Mill from New Zealand. In fact, the sustainable winegrowing program by New Zealand Winegrowers is one of the most developed in the world--and the aim is for every winery in the country to adopt the practices in the near future.
• Organic Farming
Requirements for certification can vary from country to country. But usually "certified organic" means that the grapes were grown without the use of man-made pesticides or chemical fertilizers. If you're a stickler about sulfites in your wine, "organic wine" means none were added for preservation--but sulfites are produced naturally in the fermentation process. "Wine made from organically grown grapes" means that the grapes were grown organically, but the winery might have added additional sulfites for preservation before the wine was bottled.
Organic grape growers use composts to build the nutrients in the soil that help the vines become stronger and more resistant to diseases, thus mitigating the need for chemical sprays. Organic growers often have trouble with weed growth in the vineyards, but they can combat the problem by growing cover crops in the rows between the vines. Organic farming is especially difficult in hot, humid climates, where the grapes and vines are susceptible to an array of diseases and pests.
You can find a full list of organic producers here, but some names you might recognize are Frog's Leap and Frey in California and Rex Hill in Oregon.
• Biodynamic Farming
This is organic farming taken to a higher level, with all the vineyard work done in sync with the Earth's rhythms as well as cosmic cycles. Compost is created in the vineyard, and some growers even use horses instead of tractors.
Overall, the idea is to view the vineyard as one system in balance, according to a series of guidelines developed by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner (186-1925). Biodynamic farmers make special compost preparations to spray in the vineyards; the one that attracts the most derision from skeptics is cow horn manure. Biodynamic practitioners also use fertilizers that incorporate material such as chamomile, stinging nettle, dandelions and other plants.
Many growers who switched from conventional farming to biodynamic practices report that the biodiversity in and around their vineyards improved dramatically, and that the vines are more resistant to disease.
Each major winegrowing country seems to have a champion of biodynamic principles. In France it's probably Nicolas Joly, who produces Chenin Blancs from the famous Savennières portion of the Loire Valley. In Italy it's Alois Lageder, who's best known for his white wines--such as Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Riesling and Chardonnay--from the cool Alto Adige region along the country's northern border. In California the Benziger winery is one of the earliest adopters and advocates of biodynamics. And should you be able to locate the wines of James Millton from New Zealand's Gisborne region on the North Island, the Chardonnay, Viognier and Chenin Blanc are all excellent.
Had a sustainably grown, organic, or biodynamic wine lately that you loved? Tell us about it below.