Más Vino Please! If we care so much about our food, why don’t we think that way about wine?
So in the last email, I told you my cringe-y life story of how I got from boxed wine to better wine. By the time I had reached my senior year of college, I was shopping at cute wine shops and unknowingly drinking natural wine because Boulder, Colorado is just generally ahead of the game in what’s good for you and environment.
After Boulder, I moved to Bogota, Colombia (different newsletter/blog lol), and was a little cut off from the wine world. I still drank wine (albeit overpriced), but I was back to mostly conventional, full bodied wines from Argentina and Chile. Then I went to Spain and lived there for a minute and the world of wine reopened to me. I met an Italian in Barcelona (Ciao, Alessio!), whose father was a sommelier. He taught me how to drink wine properly for the first time: like how to actually sit and smell it for a while, swirl and let it aerate. How to notice the sounds and colors of the wine, the smells and the flavors. How to savor it and listen to the wine—basically, a very Italian approach to living life and drinking wine. Yes, I was living my best life.
Life continued to happen and 2 years later, I found myself back in LA and still loving wine, of course. I met Matt <3 and we started our beautiful adventure together: him as a professional chef and me, lover of good food and wine. When we moved in together, I gave up my reigns in the kitchen since he’s the professional and I focused my energy on what else I could bring to our table (literally).
Obviously, wine was the only answer. I started thinking of wine as something to compliment the dishes he would create and a way to elevate our dinner experiences. We moved in to our home downtown and I soon discovered a cute gourmet shop in our neighborhood that specialized in imported goods and natural wines. It was game over from there. Every other night I would bring home another bottle to explore and learn about.
The more I studied natural wine, the more I realized that it had a lot in common with our weekly trips to the farmer's market. We support farmers markets for a variety of reasons: it supports local economy and farmers, healthier products, smaller batch production, eating with the seasons, and less chemical intervention….Many of us put a lot of consideration into how our food is grown and what we consume, but not as much goes into beverages like wine. If we care so much about our food, why don’t we think that way about wine?
In your new life as a natural wine connoisseur, you may have heard about wines that are “biodynamic”, “organic”, "dry farmed” and “sustainable”. These are all great words! They are not always one in the same (sometimes there is overlap) but they all refer to sustainable and more holistic approaches to growing and producing wine. If you are unfamiliar, here is your Más Vino Please study guide:
- Sustainable: A winemaking process that protects the environment and maintains social responsibility.
- Organic: Wine produced with organically grown grapes.
- Biodynamic: A holistic approach to farming that views all components as one entity, rather than individual sectors or plots. Wines must be biodynamically farmed and have zero manipulation of the wine or grapes (ie no additives or yeast).
- Dry Farmed: Relying on natural annual rainfall to grow grapes, rather than irrigation. This is standard practice in many wine making regions.
One of the reasons I appreciate natural wine making so much is it's commitment to sustainability and maintaining that delicate balance of our ecosystems through holistic practices. Some of the ways that vineyards support ecosystems are pretty rad, including creating wildlife corridors, using “cover crops” to protect the main crops and introducing “biocontrol plants" which attract beneficial insects to help with pest control. I’ve also read about pheromone traps to replace pesticides (ew, chemicals) that sexually confuse pests, but don’t actually kill them (yay, biodiversity).
There are also measures that go into soil health, water management, and energy efficiency. There are methods like hand harvesting and dry farming which follow the natural, traditional ways of wine making. Some might say these methods put a limit on the quantity of production, but I mean, quality over quantity when it comes to things in life anyway.
And listen, I am not an expert on Big Agro and I hope that soon I can meet an expert who will teach me and let me interview them so I can share more on this. But what I do know, is that the way agriculture and farming has been industrialized and mass produced, DOES hurt our environment, our people, and our economy. There is no denying that these technological advancements of the last 50 years have helped create more accessibility around wine—which is all good and dandy, but like many industries, wine makers (natural or not) should be conscious of the longterm effects they are having on the surrounding environment.
But I must reiterate my ethos here: natural wine should not only be minimal intervention—it should also prioritize the environment AND the communities who make our wine.
As consumers, we have a responsibility to ensure that we are supporting the communities who make these products possible, and hold them accountable when necessary.
With any sustainable and ethical consumer product, do your research! Learn about the wine companies, their ethos, the vineyards they work with and the practices they follow. Community is everything and it starts with you getting involved, even from home, on your couch with your computer.
Earlier this year, I learned about SIP Certified, which is a sustainability certification that wine companies and vineyards can use to certify themselves*, as long as they are following the strict sustainability standards set by SIP. These standards prioritize and value:
social responsibility (like making sure employees needs are met and they are paid fairly),
healthy environmental practices (water management, protecting wildlife habitats),
energy efficiency (like alternative energy, minimal tractor usage, and more)
ethical business practices
Sometimes, it’s difficult to know which wines are natural and/or sustainable unless you do the research. (Lucky for you, I’ve already done a bunch of research and there will definitely be a newsletter about How-To Natty Wines). But until then, a great resource to use is SIPcertified.org. Their website lists all the wine companies, vineyards and wineries with their certification so you can easily reference sustainable wines.
*it should also be noted that not all wine companies are certified organic or sustainable, but can still practice these methods and principles!!!
There are many wine companies and vineyards who are doing great things to be sustainable and, luckily, sustainability is becoming the norm in a lot of winemaking regions— which is exciting to see! Anything that’s good for momma Earth and good for people makes me happy. So happy belated-Earth Day. I hope you learned something new today!
Wanna know what ‘vegan wine’ is? Yeah, me too. Come back next time and we’ll talk about it. :)