Earth is a pretty great place, isn’t it? I think we can all agree on that*. We get to live on it. It’s very beautiful. We have lots of water and an excellent atmosphere.
Each one of us bears a responsibility to protect it. Taking steps to lessen the impact that we have on the environment is an important part of being a good citizen of the world. This is an issue that is critically important to winemakers and wine drinkers, since grapes consistently top the list of produce with high pesticide residue.
What we’re really talking about is ethical consumerism. I like to call it our sustainable drinking philosophy.
There are three tools in a winemaker’s toolkit for producing environmentally friendly wine:
- Use of recycled materials.
- Energy efficiency.
- Environmentally respectful vineyard management.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) was developed in 2000 by the U.S. Green Building Council. The organization provides independent verification that a building meets rigorous indoor and outdoor environmental quality standards. Environmentally conscious design is prevalent in the wine industry, and there are several wine production and tasting facilities that are LEED certified. Stoller Vineyards in Oregon was the first winery in the U.S. to be named LEED Gold-certified. At Napa Valley’s Cakebread Cellars, everything from the wine bottles and corks to the winery’s office materials is recycled. Four years after the debut of PlumpJack Winery’s LEED Gold-certified CADE Estate Winery, the co-founders have unveiled plans for a new LEED-certified organic winery for their Odette Estate label. Cooper Vineyards built the first LEED Platinum-certified tasting room on the east coast. Red Tail Ridge Winery in the Finger Lakes minimizes water waste by using drainage tile that facilitates water collection and on-site irrigation pond. Red Tail Ridge also uses a geothermal heating and cooling system that uses the earth’s temperature to regulate the winery’s fermentation tanks. So awesome.
Several winemakers are experimenting with dry farming. Dry farming works to conserve soil moisture through tillage, surface protection, and the use of drought-resistant varietals. The term old vine Zinfandel often refers to a dry farmed vineyard that is more than 75 years old. For example, Benito Dusi Ranch has dry farmed in Paso Robles since the 1940s, producing the Zinfandel grapes used by Ridge Vineyards. Bogle, one of our everyday favorites, uses dry farmed old vine fruit from Lodi and Amador County.
Winemakers are also innovating when it comes to controlling weeds and pests. Arizona’s Kief-Joshua Vineyards lets sheep graze on the vineyards to decrease the use of pesticides and promote biodiversity. Kief uses babydoll sheep, a small breed that doesn’t grow taller than two feet and is therefore unable to reach the grape clusters on the vines. Their adorableness overwhelms me.
Wineries in the U.S., particularly in California, have been installing solar energy systems at an ever-increasing rate. Mount Eden Vineyards installed its photovoltaic systems back in 2003. Napa Valley wineries using solar power include Araujo Estate, Chappellet, Chateau Montelena, Far Niente, Flora Springs, Merryvale, Nickel & Nickel, Robert Sinskey, Shafer, and Turley, amongst others.
Finally, if you’re going to be dining out on Earth Day (or any other day), consider frequenting one of the many fine establishments that offers an organic or biodynamic wine list. Here are some of the terms you’ll need to know:
- 100% Organic carries the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic seal and indicates the wine is made from 100 percent organically grown ingredients and has been monitored throughout its entire production process.
- Organic also carries the USDA organic seal and indicates the wine has 95 percent organically grown ingredients (the other 5 percent must not be available organically).
- Made with Organic Grapes or Made with Organic Ingredients means the wine contains at least 70 percent organic ingredients. It can have artificial sulfites added.
- Biodynamic wine is not only 100 percent organic, the grower is using a comprehensive approach that views the vineyard as an ecological whole.
The sommelier might pour you a beautiful glass of the 2004 Patianna Sauvignon Blanc, a wine produced on a 126-acre biodynamic vineyard in California’s Mendocino County where free range chickens eat the vineyard pests. Maybe they were inspired by green wine trailblazer Paul Dolan Vineyards. Dolan uses the manure from his mobile chicken coops as fertilizer. Full circle. Just like the earth.
*Here’s a really fabulous song and video, if you’re on the fence.