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Green Grapes: Buy Wine with Eco in Mind

When you buy your wine, consider the environmental impact of what you purchase. When you buy your wine, consider the environmental impact of what you purchase.


Everything is going green — your supermarket, your favorite restaurant, your job, your cars, your clothes — and the world of viticulture hasn’t been immune to the trend. Unfortunately, many early attempts by winemakers to jump on the green bandwagon resulted in low-quality wines, causing discerning drinkers to attach a stigma to terms like “organic” and “natural.”

Luckily, these days there are a number of vintners growing crops with eco-friendly practices and equal attention to quality wine. The trick is navigating terms like “organic,” “sustainable” and “biodynamic” and deciding whether they should determine which wines you buy.

A wine labeled “organic” adheres to standards set by the USDA: Vineyards are farmed without synthetic fertilizers, conventional pesticides or genetically modified plant material, and the wine doesn’t contain artificial yeasts or sulfites. Sulfites, however, act as preservatives and stabilizers. Without them, wine has a greater chance of refermenting or oxidizing in the bottle (hence organic wine’s maligned reputation). To avoid this negative connotation, some vintners who are organic choose to leave the label off their wines.

Other vineyards can’t afford the costly, time-consuming process of getting organic certification. These wineries use terms like “practicing organic,” which means they are mostly organic but might use cultured yeast or add sulfites, or “sustainable,” which indicates a vineyard enriched with cover crops and compost rather than pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. There are, however, no government standards for sustainable wines, and use of the term is self-regulated.

A blend of organics and astrology informs “biodynamics,” a holistic take on viticulture based on a series of lectures given in 1924 by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. In addition to following standard organic practices, biodynamics calls for vintners to plant, prune and harvest based on moon cycles and astrological signs. As with organic wines, however, getting certification from the governing body, Demeter-International, is a lengthy process, and many farmers who practice biodynamics don’t go through the process of certification.

If you’re interested in going green with your wine, the best way to find good bottles made with the environment in mind is to develop a relationship with a wine seller who’s knowledgeable about the vintners they buy from. Buzz words have a tendency to get in the way, either by under- or over-informing. So learn the lingo, but trust your taste buds. After all, going green is great, but life’s too short for a bad bottle of wine.

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Willie knows a thing or two about wine.
Last modified on Friday, 14 September 2012 21:38

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