How Can I Find "Green" Wines?
Search through the aisles of any grocery store these days and it’s easy to find everything from apples to ziti labeled as organic. If you care about your food, you might also wonder about your wine. But when it comes to wine, it gets a bit harder to “go organic.” I’ve had lots of people ask me: Do they make such a thing as “green” wine?
While wine really only comes in three basic shades (red, white and pink), there are several different ways wine can be considered “green.” To help you navigate through the confusion, here’s my take on some terms that you might come across if you’re looking to buy a bottle.
Many of you have probably noticed the words “Contains Sulfites” printed on almost every bottle of wine sold in the US. This is because sulfur dioxide is a commonly used additive. Wait! Before you put down your wine glass, let me add that sulfites are not only used for many reasons (they acts as preservatives and antioxidants), but they are also naturally occurring. So any fermented product, such as wine or bread, has some level of sulfites. What does this have to do with organic wine? Well, if no synthetic chemicals have been used in the vineyard, the wine has been made without the addition of any sulfur dioxide, only has a miniscule amount of naturally occurring sulfites and has the certification to prove it, it can be labeled as organic. But since there is a big risk of the wine spoiling when you don’t use sulfur dioxide, it’s actually pretty rare to find organic wines.
Wine Made with Organically Grown Grapes
What is much more common is to find wines made from organically grown grapes. This means that the grapes have been grown in vineyards where no synthetic chemicals (i.e. fertilizers, fungicides, and pesticides) have been used. If you are concerned about chemicals in what you consume, then this is the category of wines to look for. The only problem is that many vineyards are farmed organically, but are not certified organic. Therefore a lot of wines don’t say anything about being made from organically grown grapes anywhere on the label. What’s a concerned wine lover to do? In this case, your best bet is to look for retailers who know a lot about the wines they sell. A good description of the wine should tell you what kind of approach to grape-growing the winery uses.
This one can raise some eyebrows. The easiest way to explain it is to think about it as a holistic approach to grape growing and winemaking (and this is simplifying it quite a bit). The grapes are not treated with any synthetic chemicals, as with organically grown grapes. But biodynamics also assumes that cosmic cycles affect the rhythm of the earth, which in turn affects how plants grow, so all work in the vineyard and the winery is done based on the planetary calendar. While this might make you think you have to check your horoscope before you can drink a glass, when it comes down to it, biodynamics is really just another way to make wine more environmentally friendly.
Sustainable grape growing is a bit like dating. It encourages you to strive for best practices (or your ideal Mr. Right), but it also recognizes that sometimes the situation requires compromises (i.e. Mr. Right Now). For grape growing, it usually means that you seek to be environmentally responsible, use minimal amounts of chemicals and then only when necessary. Numerous wine regions throughout the world have created sustainability codes of practice to encourage mindful use of natural resources and better stewardship of the environment. Many of these organizations, such as California’s Sustainable Winegrowing Program, maintain a list of participating wineries so that you can find specific sustainable wines.
While there’s no guarantee that organically, biodynamically or sustainably grown grapes will taste better than those grown the conventional way, I have always found that winemakers who are passionate about the health of their vineyards and the environment do tend to make better wines. And if taking a greener approach is important to you, then I encourage you to pay more attention to who is making your wine – and how. If you have any questions, leave me a note. I’d be happy to talk more about red, white, pink and green!