Want to help the environment? Start with a good glass of wine. Having choices between conventionally made wines and those more eco-conscious was once non-existent, but now they are more plentiful.
Viticulture can be a great strain on the environment. The industry's negative effects include excess water usage (it takes up to eight gallons of water to produce one gallon of wine), chemical spraying, and air pollution. Wine lovers can help alleviate this stress through smart choices in the wine shop and the restaurant without sacrificing quality or taste.
Seeking out organic wines can be a good start, but it doesn't end there. "In some instances, more diesel and chemicals are used in organic grape production than sustainably farmed wine grapes," says David Gates, vice president of Vineyard Operations at Ridge Vineyards in California. Ridge produces high-quality, age-worthy wines from very old Zinfandel vineyards.
"Wine is food," Gates continues. "It has moved along the same ecological path as the rest of agriculture. Conscious growers and vintners realize that the status quo isn't good enough anymore and must work toward healing the earth by putting back as much as we take. Besides, sustainable wines taste good."
In the sustainable vineyard, cover crops are planted to reintroduce nitrogen into the soil. Whenever possible, natural predators, not pesticides, are used to combat pests such as spider mites. And it doesn't stop in the vineyard. The winery at Ridge's Lytton Springs was built with rice straw and clay. The insulating straw and clay keep the tasting-room temperature around 68 degrees and the barrel room around 60 degrees — all without the aid of air conditioning. The 400 solar panels covering the roof have so far saved more than 102 tons of carbon dioxide from polluting the environment. What this all produces is some of the most beautiful, sublime, and food-friendly red wines in the world.
When Ron and Marianne Lachini set out to make world-class Pinot Noir in 1997, they knew they wanted "to respect the land and treat it well for generations to come." For the Lachinis, sustainable viticulture not only protects and renews soil fertility but minimizes adverse impacts on natural biological cycles as well as wildlife, water quality, and the environment.
Alois Lageder, fifth-generation winemaker at Alois Lageder Winery, is breaking the deeply ingrained traditions held in the Alto Adige region of Italy. In an interview posted on the Internet, he said, "We conducted many experiments and found that the more naturally we do things, the better it is for the quality of the wine. When I took over the winery, I knew that we had a lot to change." Lageder's philosophy is to work in harmony with nature and not against it. The solar panels he installed on his new winery's roof produce more than 50 percent of the winery's power needs. Philosophy aside, his wines are seductive. Wine Spectator magazine placed his 2005 Pinot Bianco on their top 100 of 2006, and the 2006 Pinot Bianco is just as exquisite.
Aside from the positive ecological philosophy, there are two other important factors to consider: Does the wine taste good and does it sell?
"There has been a definite increase in demand for organic and sustainably farmed wines," says Brad Larson, owner of Joe's Wines in Midtown Memphis. "Many customers come here specifically seeking these wines. I used to keep the few that were organic in a section in the back. Until one day, Petros Lolonis, owner of Lolonis Winery, came in and said, 'Don't hide me in the back. Put me in with the rest of these wines. Ours is no different from the rest in taste and quality.'"
Ridge Geyserville Dry Creek Valley, California 2004. $36.99
Lachini Family Estate Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, Oregon 2006. $22.99
Alois Lageder Pinot Bianco Alto Adige, Italy 2006. $16.99
Lolonis Fumé Blanc Redwood Valley, California 2005. $13.99