The market for organic products United States has grown more than 25-fold in the last two decades, so it's not surprising that wineries have joined the move toward more eco-friendly products. But there are two important things to understand in discussing eco-friendly wine.
First, it's not as easy to identify a green wine – which can fall into one of four categories – as it is an organic potato, which is either organic or it isn't. Second, no one has quite figured out whether eco-friendly wines taste better because they're environmentally sound or because better winemakers use those techniques.
I wrote a story for the Star-Telegram newspaper in Fort Worth last month discussing just those things. I'll post an edited version here in two parts: Today, after the jump, what defines a green wine, and Friday, some green wines to consider.
My pal Jim Doutre is a Texas wine educator and French native who has been around the wine business since he was a child. And puts it succinctly:
"If I was tasted blind on organic or bio-dynamic wine, I probably couldn't tell them from conventional wine. But it's kind of nice to know that – makes me feel better to know I'm not eating pesticides.”
Which is where most of us are where with green wines. I can't tell the difference blind, either, and many of the eco-friendly wines I've sampled don't taste as well made as their conventional counterparts. My DrinkLocalWine.com cohort Dave McIntyre makes a good point: "The minimalist approach of the natural-wine movement, taken to its extreme, can be an excuse for bad winemaking."
Green wines also confuse people who sell wine. They inhabit a no-man's-land at many retailers, where they are still mostly found in organic sections set off from the rest of the wine. Save for a few national brands like Bonterra and Frey, availability isn't widespread in either retailers or restaurants. In fact, the bio-dynamically produced Bonny Doon, perhaps the best known of the eco-friendly labels, has limited availability in many parts of the country.
Eco-friendly wine falls into four groups:
• Made with organic grapes. Wine that uses organic grapes, the process of which is regulated by the federal government. This method, though, doesn't guarantee that other parts of the winemaking process, like wood barrels used for aging, are organic.
• Organic. Wine made without added sulfites, though the grapes themselves don't have to be organic. Also regulated by the federal government.
• Bio-dynamic. The next step beyond organic, based on principles established by European philosopher Rudolf Steiner almost 100 years ago. It includes guidelines for crop diversity and planting. Certified by the private Demeter Institute.
• Sustainably farmed. This is the newest certification, part of a project by the Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers that established the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance a couple of years ago. It calls for growers and wineries to use environmentally friendly, socially equitable and economically feasible methods to grow grapes and make wine.
The photo is from M. Nota of the Netherlands, via stock.xchng, using a Creative Commons license