Happy Grapes make Great Wine
Happy Earth Day! Each year, around April 22, people around the world take the day (or week, or month) to recognize, reflect, and hopefully do a small something for the environment. At K&L, that of course got us thinking about wine. And why not? At its heart, winemaking is intrinsically tied to the land, and there are some pretty exciting ways that winemakers and vintners do their part (not just in April, but all year round). I’m sure you’ve heard buzz words like ‘biodynamic,’ ‘organic’ and ‘sustainable,’ but with so many terms, it’s easy to get lost - and how do you determine what’s important for you? In honor of Earth Day today, I thought it would be good opportunity to clarify the differences.
Sustainable viticulture is the broadest category, simply referring to thoughtful vineyard practices that incorporate environmental, social and financial responsibility. There are no restrictions or rules to sustainable farming, but rather, it reflects a commitment to the land to create a healthy environment and vibrant ecosystem. Often these wines involve some organic and biodynamic practices, but they are not as strictly followed as the other two. Cover crops, water management, composting and recycling are all part of sustainable practices. You’ll often see sheep in the vineyard to help with the weeds, or owl boxes installed to encourage beneficial birds for the pests. This is by far the most popular, and most adopted, form of responsible farming.
Organic wines are two-fold. There are ‘organic’ wines and ‘made with organically grown grapes.’ So what’s the difference? A wine that is labeled ‘organically-grown’ means that no pesticides or synthetics were used in the vineyard. However, additives can be used during winemaking. For a wine to be ‘certified organic,’ it has to be made solely with organic grapes and it cannot have any added sulfites or non-organic additives during the winemaking process. Certification can often be arduous and difficult to attain, so if you see that it is labeled organic, you know the winery has done their homework!
Biodynamic wines are the result of a complex process that incorporates astrological influences and lunar cycles. In essence, this practice protects and encourages the delicate ecosystem to create pure wines, expressive of the vineyard and vintage. There are no synthetic chemicals allowed in growing the grapes or manipulations allowed during winemaking, such as the addition of yeast, sugar, acid, etc. The vines are planted, pruned and tended according to phases of the moon. Compost teas are also carefully brewed to promote the right balance of microorganisms in the vineyard. This closed-loop system is work-intensive but highly rewarding in the quality of fruit.
Grapes produced in these three ways promote the natural ecosystem and work in tandem with nature. The fruit is healthier, and shows higher levels of nutritional yeast for cleaner fermentation and less need for added sulfites. A UC Davis study showed that organic fruits showed 58 percent higher natural antioxidants than non-organic produce. And if that isn’t a great excuse to raise another glass, I don’t know what is!
The exciting thing is how many producers are now using one (if not more) of the above practices, and wines made in these ways are becoming easier and easier to find. With a little research, you’ll find tons of options that not only taste great, but are also good for our globe.
On that note, cheers to Mother Earth!