Archive for the ‘ Sustainable Wine and Beer ’ Category

Making Wine the Green Way

Through lifestyle and consumer choices, we each play a significant role in determining the state of our environment. Breaking away from the notion that bigger, faster, newer and more is always better can help us reconsider what constitutes “wealth” and to balance our personal well-being with the health of the environment. So what does balancing our own well-being with the environment or being “green” even mean?

Being GreenBeing “green” does not necessarily mean you have to give up meat or live “off the grid” if you don’t wish to. My advice is to start making small changes and slowly build in other sustainable living techniques and habits into your life. As many of us know, these habits can include using reusable grocery bags, recycling, conserving energy, watching our water use, etc. In addition, this can include enjoying local and/or organic food and beverage.

So what is one the most delicious products to buy organic? Wine! At least in my opinion…

I am learning more and more about how many winemakers are following the green path creating wines that truly show their unique characteristics by virtue of sustainable farming. Taking its queue from the practice of eco-conscious farming, winemakers are taking advantage of all the different green measures available to them such as solar and biofuel power as well as reverting back to farming practices that have been around for thousands of years.

Check out this video on one vineyard’s story behind its biodynamic methods. Huffington Post

There is just something about hearing the story behind the vineyard. I love that the Benziger Family Winery follows biodynamic principles but I also love how much the vineyard expands its techniques and improves its product while maintaining a commitment to its core values. Such an impressive balance to strike.

In the article/video, Benziger calls the methods they use “one of the most advanced forms of organic farming,” using plants and animals – instead of chemicals and fertilizers – to create a complete self-sustaining ecosystem. Benziger Family Vineyard was the first vineyard in the Napa area to earn the strict certification for biodynamic practices.

Colby Eierman, the winery’s Director of Gardens, says, “It’s interesting to even think about the concept of wine going green — it’s a natural agricultural product. It’s kind of amazing for me to think that we ever tried to go against that.”

To be clear, wine created biodynamically versus organically is closely related but there is definitely a difference. Biodynamics is in effect a supercharged system of organic winemaking. Simply put, where biodynamics differs significantly in practice from organics is in the use of these special preparations and the timing of their application—in other ways the techniques employed are quite similar.

In addition, the goal of biodynamic winemaking is to view the vineyard as a complete living system. It’s about the soil, insects and other vegetation and animals that inhabit space in the vineyard all working in harmony to bring you some incredible-tasting wines.

It has its roots in a series of lectures delivered by Austrian philosopher–scientist Rudolf Steiner in 1924. Steiner’s life mission was to bridge the gap between the material and spiritual worlds through the philosophical method. To this end, he created the ‘spiritual science of anthroposophy, which he used as the basis of the Waldorf school system that persists to this day.  Read those two sentences one more time – I may have just lost you somewhere between spiritual worlds and philosophical method…

Yes, to many this method sounds bizarre! From what I have read, Steiner was well aware that many people would find anthroposophy to be insane. I love his attitude! Not only did he come up with such a fascinating and beautiful method of working with the land but also realized that the spiritual side may not appeal to all – and took it in stride. Based on that, the modern biodynamic practice is built on top of Steiner-inspired theories, but it is important to emphasize that there are a number of growers who practice biodynamics but who would distance themselves from Steiner’s beliefs and teachings.

Biodynamics has made some high profile converts in recent years and is taken seriously by the wine industry purely on the evidence of the wines it produces. From my understanding, biodynamic winemaking is not just about following a set of established guidelines or learning some simple new growing tricks. Rather, it’s more about adopting a lifestyle and a set of beliefs – about listening to a particular piece of land and becoming tuned in to what it needs to thrive.

The more I’ve read about biodynamic winegrowers, one thing seems clear. While they tend to agree on the big details, each has developed biodynamics to suit his or her own particular situation. In the end, most wine producers have their eye on what it takes to make a great wine – taste and quality. With changing climates and an industry that is infinitely dependent on the weather, complementing the sun’s energy by means of sustainable practices, whether in the fields or on a building, are positive steps in maintaining the future of many a great wine.

So how can you find organic or biodynamic wine? Or what constitutes organic or biodynamic wine?

To start, here is a quick guide on what those terms mean on a wine label. I have tried to compile and synthesize the information I have found from various sources-definitely difficult to find one answer to what organic and/or biodynamic wine is. According to Organic Wine Journal:

  • Bottom line, organic wine is made from grapes that have been grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. Winemaking techniques should be organic as possible with little or no manipulation of wines by reverse osmosis, excessive filtration or flavor additives.
  • When a label says “organic,” it means the wine has met certain standards that are set by a government agency. What’s deemed “organic” in one country may not be organic in another because different countries have different standards. In the United States, wines labeled “organic” cannot contain added sulfites. Wines that have added sulfites, but are otherwise organic, are labeled “wine made from organic grapes.”

Some additional terms and their meanings:

  • 100% Organic carries the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic seal (the certifying agency must be listed) and indicates the wine is made from 100% organically grown ingredients and has been monitored throughout its entire production process. This wine can contain only naturally occurring sulfites (or sulfur dioxide, an antimicrobial substance) in less than 100 parts per million (ppm).
  • Organic also carries the USDA organic seal and indicates the wine has 95% organically grown ingredients (the other 5% must not be available organically). Again the certifying agency must be listed and the wine has the same sulfite requirements as 100% organic.
  • Made with Organic Grapes or Made with Organic Ingredients means the wine contains at least 70% organic ingredients. It can have artificial sulfites added, but it may not contain more than 100 ppm. (It does not have the USDA organic seal.)
  • Biodynamic is based on the precise observation and an attempt at balance of nature, a concept originated by the early 20th-century Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. So, biodynamic wine is not only 100% organic, in addition, the grower has gone beyond to try to bring the farming process more closely in tune with nature. For instance, biodynamic wine growers may make their own compost and/or watch the stars and planets to time what they do.

In addition, here are a few links to sites that list biodyamic and/or organic wine. Not all-inclusive, but it’s a start. My site will be updated with some more information as well – not only about wine, but also craft beer, organic food and green living.  Stay tuned!

Music for Today:  The Universe is Laughing, Guggenheim Grotto (The Universe is Laughing, 2010)

PS: Guggenheim Grotto closed the concert I saw playing Radiohead’s “Creep” on the ukulele – one of my top 5 encores ever.


Bacon and Yoga – Together at Last

Possibly one of the biggest debates in the yoga community is around food, ahimsa (non-harming), and health.  An article in the New York Times includes an in-depth view on the wide range of ideas surrounding yoga and food choices. Can you be a yogi who also appreciates a burger or even bacon every now and then? What about wine or chocolate? Some say yes, some say no…

There is a full spectrum of opinions on the subject – everything from eating anything you choose to being a vegetarian to  ensuring that each vegetable you eat is grown in an atmosphere of positive energy. That’s right,  some do not believe that an all-vegan, organic, low-carbon-footprint diet is pure enough: each vegetable must be grown in an atmosphere of positive energy. Seems unattainable or even a bit excessive, but what a beautiful concept.

It’s an interesting question – is it more important to be vegetarian or to be concerned with where your meat – or any food –  is coming from?  Does buying organic, free of pesticides/hormones, low carbon footprint or even buying locally take precedence over being a vegetarian? Does any sort of precedence even come into play?

Maybe the middle path is best – follow a diet that suites you according to your yoga philosophy and refrain from judging those who choose differently.  If we become intolerant towards those who eat meat, is that an act of kindness? Mary Taylor, a student of Julia Child, asks: “If your grandmother is making a wonderful meat dish that you have loved since you were a child, is it yoga to push it away?”

No matter where you stand on the issue, it’s hard to argue with this quote by Dave Romanelli:  “What yoga teachers do and what chefs do is not so different. We take everyday actions like moving and eating, and slow you down so you can appreciate them.” Basically, achieving stillness and peace amid the distractions of life has always been the higher goal of yoga.

Whether talking about opinions on food or other lifestyle choices, intention is key.  It’s not just what your life choices are or why you choose them – it’s the intention behind how you carry those choices through your life and in what way you choose to extend them to others.

Music for today: Believe in Love, The Wooden Birds  (Magnolia, 2009)