"Red, White, and...Green?" Eco Wine Tastes Like a Good Story

September 17, 2008

 A few journalists are known to occasionally sample alcoholic beverages (ahem...), so covering the environmental angles of wine might present a welcome diversion from slogging through Superfund sites and zoning hearings.

For many reporters, eco wine can be an intensely local story. While not every state has vineyards, viticulture has spread way beyond California in recent decades, and growers take fierce pride in their products in states ranging from Oregon to New York to Virginia. Are there vineyards near you?

Here's a roundup of sources and resources related to current eco wine issues. (NOTE: This list covers topics relating to the actual wine, and to viticulture. Issues related to wine packaging will be covered in an upcoming TipSheet item.)

KNOW YOUR TERMS: ORGANIC VS. BIODYNAMIC

"Organic" and "biodynamic" — These terms describe two main types of eco-friendly wine marketed in the US. Both pertain to the winemaking and viticulture (wine-growing) methods.

ORGANIC WINE: This can mean anything from wine made with 100% organic grapes to merely containing "some organic ingredients" — and plenty in between. Here's an excellent, succinct overview of the various classifications and complexities of organic wine.

Last month, Treehugger.com published a profile of how organic winemaking works at one major CA-based vintner, Bonterra: Part 1; Part 2.Vineyard manager David Koball can be reached via press contact James Caudill, 707-237-3461.

BIODYNAMIC WINE: Basically, "biodynamic" is to "organic" in the wine world as "vegan" is to "vegetarian" in the food world. That is, biodynamic winemaking follows especially stringent procedures. A current book on this field is Nicholas Joly's Biodynamic Wine Demystified. On Aug. 23, 2008, wine blogger Alice Feiring reported that new biodynamic wine regulations may be coming.

OTHER ANGLES

CLIMATE CHANGE: The Nature Conservancy recently published an article on the effects of climate change on Mediterranean winegrowing and on Vineyards and Conservation — both about the work of TNC director of global Mediterranean conservation Jeffrey Parrish, who can be reached via TNC press.

CERTIFICATION: Some US wines and grapes are certified organic under the USDA's National Organic Program (NOP). USDA Agricultural Marketing Service press: Joan Shaffer, 202-720-8998; or Billy Cox, 202-720-8998.

Organic wineries rely on myriad sustainable agriculture techniques, including attracting beneficial birds, bats, and other wildlife (even wild boars) to control weeds and pests. Example: Shafer Vineyards (Napa, CA), 707-944-2877. Profile.

SULFITES AND TASTE: Many wine lovers (oenophiles) shun sulfites due to health sensitivities, such as asthma. According to Salon.com, under USDA policy: "No organic food [can be] produced or handled with any synthetic chemicals. ...Sulfur dioxide keeps wine barrels from harboring acetic bacteria that can sour their liquid contents. The preservative keeps sweet white wines from losing their fruity flavors and turning brown. Red wine contains tannin, a natural preservative, but even so, experts say they need some sulfites to keep them drinkable for a number of years. No one has yet found a nonsynthetic replacement for sulfites. Although organic-wine makers now use microfilters to get rid of bacteria and give their wines a longer shelf life, some wine experts say organic wines aren't stable and change flavor within months of being bottled."

ONLINE SHOPPING: Not much eco-friendly wine in your local liquor stores? You can find organic and biodynamic wines from most online wine retailers. (Shipping not available to all states.) Some retailers even specialize in eco-friendly wines, such as Ecowine.com, Organic Vintages,and Organic Wine Press.

CARBON FOOTPRINT: Wine blogger and NYU professor Tyler Colman published a paper last year with research on the carbon footprint of wine.Nature Conservancy story on his work. Also, as with food, transportation is a key consideration in wine's carbon footprint— which means wines made locally, from local grapes, usually offer an inherent environmental benefit. See also Colman's recent book, Wine Politics: How Governments, Environmentalists, Mobsters, and Critics Influence the Wines We Drink.

CANADIAN ECO-FRIENDLY WINE: Several Canadian wineries are organic or biodynamic. Example: Tawse Winery (Niagara region). Brad Gowland, Winery Manager: 905-562-9500, email. Sept. 10 Canadian Press profile. Also, on Aug. 28 Canada's National Post ran this article on eco-friendly wine issues.

WATER CONSERVATION: As with many kinds of agriculture and beverage-making, wine requires a lot of water. Also, many grape-growing regions around the world are experiencing drought. Ask about water conservation techniques such as gravity-fed irrigation and soil moisture monitoring.

ECO WINE EVENTS: Around North America, many wineries, restaurants, bars, and festivals host events featuring various kinds of eco-friendly wines. Current example from Boulder, CO. Ask about eco-friendly wines when covering or attending any wine-related event.

ORGANIC SAKE: Japanese plum wine, especially popular in sushi restaurants, is available in organic versions. Recent article.

SOUTH AFRICAN BIODIVERSITY & WINE INITIATIVE. Contact. Nature Conservancy coverage.

VEGAN WINE: Biodynamic wine isn't eco-friendly enough for you? There are actually some vegan wines (made without the animal products sometimes used in the filtering process). See the Vegan Wine Guide.

MORE SOURCES & RESOURCES