Happy Spring! In April we witness the earth awakening from her winter sleep. As a young boy, I recall celebrating Arbor Day each year by taking a break from classes to go outside and plant a tree. Earth Day became a spring holiday in support of the environment in the 1970s and now, more than 50 years later, is celebrated globally on April 22. This year’s theme is to “Invest in Our Planet.” For decades, the wine industry has embodied this theme by proactively adopting strategies such as sustainable vineyard practices and biodynamic agriculture. Additionally, many wine producers are making more wines using organically grown grapes. In this article, I will explain what these terms mean and offer examples from wineries who have made these investments that benefit our planet.
The term organic has been popular in grocery stores for decades. In the global wine market, the market share of organic wines is between 4-5%. Simply put, organic wines are those produced with organically grown grapes, meaning they are grown without the use of synthetic chemicals or pesticides. That does not necessarily mean there weren’t additives added to the wine. The approved additive list varies from country to country and may, among other things, include yeast, egg whites, and rennet, an enzyme produced in the stomachs of mammals. (Note: certified vegan-friendly wines are those that do not contain additives from animal products.)
You may be familiar with the term ‘sulfites’, the sulfur-dioxide (SO2) found in wines that many wine consumers blame for causing headaches, especially when they are drinking red wines. Sulfites serve as a shelf stabilizer and preservative in wine and other foods, slowing them from going bad. For a small percentage of people with a particular sensitivity, sulfites may indeed be the cause of those headaches. For most people, they actually are not; it is the alcohol level likely to blame. Sulfites are present in many consumables, including cured meats, cheese, canned soup, dried fruit, French fries and more. This compound is naturally occurring in wine, so virtually all wine will have some sulfites at low levels. A good quality dry red wine contains about 50 parts per million sulfites. In the United States, a wine identified as organic is “a wine made from organically grown grapes without added sulfites.” So, if sulfites or other synthetic additives are a concern for you, organic wines may be a good option. The Lobetia Tempranillo, from the Castilla Y Leon in Spain, is a very reasonably priced and delicious organic wine. It is beautifully balanced with a long, smooth finish that pairs very well with steak, sausage, and barbequed meats, or, for vegetarians, with roasted hearty vegetables.
Sustainable agriculture practices are also becoming more common in the wine industry. A sustainable certification requires the vineyard to use practices that conserve energy and water, and to promote the long-term health of the earth and the surrounding environment. Wine production takes a wholistic corporate social responsibility approach to sustainability, following the three pillars of economy, society, and the environment. California is a leader through their statewide sustainability program, with about one-third of vineyards representing more than 85% of commercial wine production that is sustainably certified. J. Lohr Wineries is one of the many Golden State winemakers to earn this certification, with vineyards that produce the company’s very popular Arroyo Seco Monterey Chardonnay, the Falcon’s Perch Pinot Noir, the Paso Robles Merlot and the wonderful, Wildflower Valdiguie’, among other varietals that are certified as sustainable. It is important to note that sustainable practices have been utilized globally for centuries, although not all vineyards take the steps to become certified.
Lastly, biodynamic winemaking is a practice that incorporates aspects of organic and sustainable agriculture, and more. The philosophy behind biodynamic winemaking goes back a hundred years to an Austrian philosopher named Rudolph Steiner. The basis is a belief that everything in the universe -the earth, the moon, the planets, etc.- are interconnected. Biodynamic winemaking promotes activities that promote this harmony. Mike Benzinger, of Benzinger Family Vineyards in Sonoma, CA, says, “at its core, biodynamics is an energy management system.” Biodynamics works on a calendar of activities that include Fruit Days, Root Days, Flower Days, and Leaf Days. Prescribed viticultural activities, including everything from watering to harvesting, are allowed or forbidden dependent on the day’s classification. Montinore Estates in Oregon has been practicing biodynamics since the early 2000’s and received the Biodynamic Certification in 2008. The winery states that these practices are the most complete approach to land stewardship and the highest level of ethical farming practices in the industry. Montinore produces outstanding certified biodynamic and organic wines including its Pinot Noir and Pinot Noir Reserve, its Pinot Gris, and the unique orange wine, the Montinore Estate L’Orange 2020.
I hope this article has given you a better understanding of these terms and encourages you to consider an organic, sustainable, or biodynamic wine the next time you go shopping. As always, contact me with any questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org, or stop into the Somers Point store. Until next time, Happy Earth Day and Happy Wining!