The “green” wine phenomenon has been happening for as long as wine itself. Only lately, it has been labelled green wine for reasons we will discuss in this post. Due to easy access to new technologies (including farming, land management, disease control, harvesting and more), winemaking has evolved greatly in the past few decades, making old methods a thing of the past. In spite of the overall efficiency and larger profit, some winemakers are going back to proven methods, and showing the utmost interest in the values that once ruled the wine making process.
Green wines are separated into 4 categories, each exhibiting their own traditions and values.
Sustainable (SIP Certified) – “Nurture the land and return what you take.”
SIP Certified is about great, sustainable wines, healthy vineyards, and the well being of workers. The sustainable wine production operates under a philosophy that shows the greatest care for the environment, and responsibility towards the land. Sustainable wine-growing practices must follow “the code”, a specific regime that allows them to get certified. Certified wineries demonstrate a commitment to conserving water and energy, reducing waste and preventing pollution. Those efforts are aimed at reducing the carbon footprint of wine production facilities. They work diligently with industrial, environmental and governmental agencies to develop standards of “green” practices in winemaking. Those programs cover everything from composting and soil management to recycling and the type of environmentally friendly bottles and labels they use.
Winemakers adopting this new method hope to improve wine quality, produce eco-friendly wines, and help compete in the global marketplace where consumers are increasingly interested in knowing that the foods and wines they enjoy are produced in an environmentally friendly manner.
Sustainability is about being responsible and giving back to the land what we ask for it to provide, insuring healthy and productive vines for current and future generations. The Hess Collection Winery was among the first 10 wineries to receive certification for the Napa Green Winery program. The Hess Collection adheres to founder Donald Hess‘ philosophy: “Nurture the land; return what you take.”
Organic – “Eco-friendly wines”
Organic wine production must use grapes grown in accordance with the principles of organic farming – set by the National Organic Program, from the United States Department of Agriculture – which typically excludes the use of artificial chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. Though the legal definition of organic wine varies from country to country, the rule is rather simple in the United States – for a wine to be labeled ‘organic’ and bear the USDA organic seal (or other certifying agencies), it must be made from at least 95% organically grown grapes. It cannot contain any added sulfites but may contain less than 20 parts per million of naturally occurring sulfites. The rule is simple but it gets a bit more complicated :(
You might find a bottle labeled “made with organically grown grapes“, but that doesn’t mean the wine is organic. That’s because sulfites have been added to the winemaking process, or because the winery itself isn’t certified organic.
Sulfites are commonly introduced to arrest fermentation at a desired time, and may also be added to wine as preservatives to prevent spoilage and oxidation at several stages of the winemaking. Certain kinds of sulfites can protect wine from not only oxidation, but also bacteria. This is all very convenient but it is not organic!
You want organic? Here is what you DON’T need:
• synthetic materials
• fungicides or pesticides
• added sulfites
Here is what you DO need:
• cover crops (help manage soil fertility, soil quality, water, biodiversity, etc…)
• compost and biological pest control
Patianna Organic Vineyards (Upper Russian River, Mendocino County, California) are certified organic by the California Certified Organic Farmers association.
Interesting fact: The consumption of organic wines grew faster than non-organic wines during the last two years.
Biodynamic – “Spiritual, ethical, and ecological symbiosis between man and nature”
Biodynamic farming is much like Organic farming, on steroid. One of the first ecological movement in agriculture, it is a self-sustainable system that relies on interrelationship of soil, plants, animals, and astronomical calendar. Sounds pretty darn complex, and that’s because it is!
The development of biodynamic agriculture began in 1924 with philosopher Rudolf Steiner in Germany. Tested experimentally at first, those methods spread quickly, and is now practiced in more than 50 countries worldwide, for various crop styles, including biodynamic wine production.
“Restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony” – Biodynamic vineyards use herbs, minerals and manure for sprays and composts. As one of many combinations, cow manure and cow horn, are utilized under such meticulous instructions, to produce substances that’ll help protect vineyards against fungal diseases. Other common mixtures such as Chamomile blossoms stuffed into small intestines from dead cattle, and Oak bark placed inside the skull of a dead domesticated animal are also being used. There are a few more, but I think you got the gist of it.
P.S.: No animals were harmed during the writing of this post.
Natural – “Less is more”
Natural winemaking is a slightly newer movement in the wine industry representing wine that are… well, natural. The philosophy of natural wine is defined by what is left out of the winemaking process, as opposed to what is added. Natural wine producers are more interested in the purity of their work rather than in the physical perfection of the result.
I know what you’re thinking… that wine is no good. Well, not quite.
Natural wine has its own quality. It’s little bit like the home-made dessert wine that your grandmother makes every year using her own fruits, and very minimal resources. A recipe that’s been passed on from generation to generation, a most anticipated drink that every member of the family has been waiting for. It doesn’t get any more natural than that.
Some of the key features of natural wine are:
• Organically or biodynamically grown grapes, with or without certification.
• Dry-farmed, low-yielding vineyards.
• No added sugars, no foreign yeasts, no foreign bacteria.
• Minimal or no fining or filtration.
• No heavy manipulation
• Minimal or no added sulphites aka sulfites.
Opus One has been converting to natural practices since 2006. I’m not suggesting you try this magnificent wine… but if choose to do it, let me know if you need a drinking buddy ;)
Now that you know about green wines, I encourage you to look for them at your local wine store, and give them a chance. Pay attention to the way you feel when drinking it, reflect upon the special care that goes into the production of these types of wine. See if you can taste the difference, and if you think it is worth the prevalent fascination it is getting from around the world.
Take a closer look to the mysteries of biodynamic wines by visiting this popular Wine Ponder article.