Today is Earth Day 2010, so in deciding which wines I'd like to pair with dinner, I decided to go GREEN.
Before the recession, being 'green' had become a key marketing tool for companies. Faced with uncertain economic times, the buzzword has changed to 'value', and many of us are not as consistently environmentally conscious in our day-to-day purchases as we'd like to be.
Even though it not always obvious to us wine drinkers most wineries and grape growers have made tremendous efforts to become GREEN by reducing gas-house emissions and carbon footprints, by using more environmentally friendly, efficient and renewable sources of energy and, by cultivating their grapes in a more earth-friendly, sustainable way.
Many producers have moved toward organic or biodynamic practices, or at the very least to sustainable viticulture, thereby minimizing non-organic and chemical inputs to the land. Additionally, lots of wineries have installed solar panel systems to cover their energy needs, turned to more biofuels for vineyard vehicles and invested in more lightweight and recyclable packaging.
Taking it a step further, some wineries have achieved Carbon - Neutral status, whereby they fully off-set their carbon foot-print. These are:
Grove Mill Winery, New Zealand, which was first in 2006, Parducci Wine Cellars, Mendocino, CA; Cullen Wines, Margaret River, Western Australia; Cono Sur Vineyards, Chile; Backsberg Estate, South Africa; Tinhorn Creek Vineyards, BC, Canada and Wakefield Wines, Barossa, Australia.
According to the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance over one third of California's vineyard area is now farmed sustainably. In Napa, the Napa Valley Vintners association has a number of programs to assist members become greener, including the Napa Green Land and Napa Green Winery programs. Almost every regional winegrowing alliance has some program aimed at increasing both the the awareness and practice of green viticultural and winemaking practices.
In Champagne, well-known house Pommery made quite a splash when it launched POP Earth, which is made from sustainably grown grapes. In producing it they have reduced water usage by 20% and the wine is bottled in a more lightweight bottle, with no additional superfluous 'beauty' packaging. The label is printed with water-soluble ink and the wine is shipped to the US by boat rather than air.
In Bordeaux, Chateau Pontet-Canet (5ème Grand Cru Classé) in Pauillac was the first Chateau to convert to biodynamics. Winemaker Jean-Michele Comme is a tireless biodynamic advocate, and sees biodynamic viticulture as a way not just to make better wine, but also to give something back to the earth – to restore the balance that has been destroyed by years of conventional farming practices. Biodynamic practices promote greater life and biodiversity in the soil.
In Burgundy, biodynamic practices are more commonly practiced. Many of the top, lauded sites are cultivated this way such as Domaine de la Romannée Conti and Domaines Leroy, Leflaive, Lafon and Drouhin. Elsewhere in France you have Coulée de Serrant and Huet in the Loire, Zind Humbrecht in Alsace, Charpoutier in the Rhône Valley and Jacques Selosse in Champagne to name but a few.
In California some key biodynamic practitioners include Benziger, Frey, Viader and Grgich. And, Beaux Frères in Oregon.
On the packaging side there are lots of wines available in innovative lighter, more environmentally friendly format. One great range that I recently tasted is the Octavin Home Wine Bar range of wines. The wines are packaged in an octagon shaped 3L Bag-in-Box, and claims to have reduced packaging waste by 85% and carbon emissions by 55%. Three of my favorite wines were the Silver Birch Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, Boho Vineyards Zinfandel from California and Monthaven Chardonnay from California's Central Coast. As well as being green, these wines are great value at about $20-$22 per 3L box.
Another earth friendly initiative by a number of wineries is the rejuvenation of natural wetlands. Well known winery Banrock Station in Australia, pioneered the rejuvenation of the Murray River wetlands in South Australia, such that today it is teeming with life, thanks to the restoration of its natural drying and flooding cycles. While not always on the scale of Banrock Station, many winegrowers are doing their bit by ensuring that significant parts of their properties remain as natural landscapes.
Another area that many wineries are working on is making their winery buildings green. CADE winery in the Napa valley is one such winery that is working toward LEED certification. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) promotes a holistic building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in five key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality. CADE has already significantly reduced its water consumption by over 60%, generates almost all its energy needs through solar panels and has left 60% of the property as natural landscape. ,
So, with a green consciousness, I can now go shopping for Green wines for my Earth Day dinner party.
• NV Pommery POP Earth, $55 - A recent and very fine addition to the Pommery stable of Champagne. Delicate and medium bodied. Floral, white fruit and brioche notes. Called EARTH, to reflect Pommery's commitment to the environment. The bottle is lighter than their regular bottles. The label is made from recycled paper and uses water-soluble ink.
• Octavin Home Wine Bar – 2009 Monthaven Chardonnay, Central Coast, $23.99 (3L cask) - Bright clean fruit flavors, smooth, with subtle oak, soft and easy drinking, well balanced and great value for a big gathering.
• Octavin Home Wine Bar – 2009 Silver Birch Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand, $23.99 (3L Cask) Pungent, zesty fruit, notes of dried grass, citrus and tropical fruit. Easy drink, refreshing and great value.
• 2006 Zind Humbrecht Riesling, Alsace, $28 - Classic Riesling nose, floral, wet stones, apricot. Refreshing, elegant and beautifully balanced.
• 2006 Huet "Le Haut Lieu" Sec, Vouvray, Loire Valley, France, $35 – Dry, fresh and fruity – flavors of honey, apricots, and lots of minerality. Elegant with a lot of finesse.
• 2007 Cullen Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc, Margaret River, Western Australia, $25 – tropical fruit salad – pineapple, mango, papaya aromas and flavors. Quite richly textured but still elegant and refreshing.
• 2008 CADE Winery, Sauvignon Blanc (Howell Mountain), $26 - Richer than your typical Sauvignon Blanc. It has some Semillon in the blend, which fleshes out the palate. Ripe citrus and tropical fruit – guava, cantaloupe, apricot, ruby grapefruit and hints of orange.
• 2007 Château du Champ des Treilles Blanc, Sainte-Foy Bordeaux, $14 - A great value white Bordeaux from the westernmost part of the region. Property farmed biodynamically also. A classic white Bordeaux blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle.
• 2007 Manincor Moscato Giallo, Alto Adige, Italy, $19 - The vineyards are farmed biodynamically and they winery built into the landscape, so as not to disturb the landscape. A beautiful wine, aromatic, crisp, texttured with lots of exotic fruit, yet tangy with hints of spice.
• 2006 Grove Mill Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand, $27 – Nicely complex and sweet-savory nose. Lots of cherries and berry fruits, spicy oak. Well-structured, smooth tannins with just enough grip.
• 2007 Cono Sur 20 Barrels Pinot Noir, Casablanca valley, Chile, $28 - Lavish fruity palate of fesh cherries, strawberry, raspberry with notes of leather, smoke and earth. Well-structured and elegant. Cono Sur also makes a mid-priced Pinot Noir for $10, which, while lacking complexity is full of vibrant cheery fruit.
• 2006 Backberg Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Coastal Region, South Africa, $17 – 14.5% abv – Lots of spice, clove, liquorice prevail against a backdrop of black fruit – plums, blackberries, cassis. A robust, full-bodied, tannic wine that needs red meat. Alcohol a little noticeable on the finish.
• 2007 Viader DARE Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley, $40 – I am a longtime fan of Viader wines and owner, founder, winemaker Delia Viader. Intensely flavored with excellent fruit concentration – blackberries, raspberries, wild plums and fabulous lifted floral notes. Full-bodied, firm tannins but maintains great finesse.
• 2006 Château Pontet Canet, Pauillac, $72 – Fantastic concentration, depth of fruit and length. While 06 is not as lauded as Bordeaux 2005, I tend to favor the restraint of the 06's. From one of my favorite producers. Still a bit too young to drink (though it is hard to get your hands on older vintages). Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon 62%, Merlot 33%, Cabernet Franc 3%, Petit-Verdot 2%
And of course earth-friendly wines can be enjoyed any day of the year.
Enjoy, and Happy Earth Day!
Mary Gorman-McAdams, DWS, is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. She holds the Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and is a candidate in the Master of Wine Program.
(Images: Martha Stewart; wine producers)