Grape growers are pioneers of the sustainability movement
May 4, 2011
Ever stop to think about where your wine comes from? Not Old World or New World, Burgundy or Napa, but the earth, the soil that nourishes the grapes that create the tongue-tickling flavors that strike your fancy.In viticulture, as in other produce farming, organic methods are becoming more desirable, and seeking out organic and sustainable wines is easier than you might think. In fact, according to local wine buyers, for decades the winemaking industry has been pioneering the movement toward more environmentally friendly growing practices and giving back to the terroir that gives them their livelihood.David Courtney, a sommelier at Beaver Liquors in Avon, said there are a couple of wines that come to mind that really go out of their way to do the right thing by Mother Nature. Meinklang (www.meinklang.at) is a biodynamic producer out of Austria that makes a Gruner Veltliner and a Zweigelt, Courtney said.”They have a regular farm, which the cows are the center of their farming,” Courtney said in an email. “Everything is used (ecological circle) to help sustain the farm.”At home in Colorado, wineries have also gotten into the sustainability movement. One of these is Jack Rabbit Hill in Hotchkiss (jackrabbithill.com).”They are a Colorado winery that is very serious about the organic movement,” Courtney said. “They are also biodynamic.”
Mickey Werner, manager of Alpine Wine & Sprits, said Mike Benziger, of the Benziger Family Winery (www.benziger.com), has been growing biodynamically since the 1990s, “before it was popular.” The winery is certified organic and biodynamic, according to its website, which also states that the vineyards rely on composting, natural predator-prey relationships, cover crops and the animals that live on the estate to keep the crops healthy and balanced. Werner said that dedication to vineyard health is obvious when visiting the property.”We spent days looking at a lot of the stuff he had done, and I noticed a marked difference in the health of the vineyard and the vines,” Werner said.Another pioneer in environmental consciousness, Werner said, is Susan Sokol-Blosser, of Sokol-Blosser wines (www.sokolblosser.com). The winery’s 1999 Riesling is a certified sustainable LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology) wine, and in 2002, it became the first U.S. winery to receive LEED certification.With a recent boom in the trend toward organic produce and sustainable farming practices, “environmentally friendly” has become a buzz phrase that gets thrown around a lot. But in the wine world, being organic is more than just a marketing ploy.”I think, for the most part, these wineries that are organic are doing it because they know you have to treat your crop right and, in turn, it will treat you right,” Courtney said.
Werner said that it all goes back to being a good farmer.”If you take care of the land, it will take care of your grapes,” he said. “Any good grower knows the better you take care of your growing environment, the better the fruit you get, the better the wine you get. … It’s easy to make a wine in that respect.””On my many visits to Europe when talking with the winemakers, they all know that if you keep using harsh chemicals you will eventually change your terroir, which is what Euro wines are all about,” Courtney said. “Most don’t even have a word for organic farming because that is just how it’s done.”And, Werner said, there is some evidence that wine produced from grapes grown biodynamically has a different taste profile from that made with conventionally farmed grapes. He pointed to a recent trade-magazine article he had read about an Oregon winery that did a taste test on two crops grown in identical conditions.”They farmed both sides of a shallow valley, half biodynamic, half conventional – same clones, root stock – the majority of the tasters said there was a taste-profile difference in every flight that went through,” Werner said. “Better is subjective, but there is a more profound taste profile difference between the two.”Both Courtney and Werner said that knowing a wine producer is using organic methods to grow a wine could make it a more attractive buy.”If the producer is farming organically and the wine is good, we buy it,” Courtney said. “I tell people all the time organic wine is no different than organic food. … It tastes better!”