Winemakers Care for the Planet
By Jerry Greenfield
It shouldn’t be much of a surprise to know that farmers — and especially grape growers — are deeply concerned about the land that provides their living. More and more, winemakers and the people who grow their grapes have been moving toward more sensible, sustainable agricultural practices.
There’s the organic movement, and several agencies that will certify wines made using certain techniques and practices. There is also the biodynamic approach professed by a man named Rudolf Steiner, who contended (among other things) that certain activities such as planting and harvesting should be done only during certain phases of the moon, and that the soil needed to be tended and nourished in special, often bizarre, ways.
Organizations such as SIP (Sustainability in Practice) are supported by winemakers who go a bit further in their commitment. They believe in not only sustainable grape growing and winemaking, but also in the ethical treatment of their employees and the well-being of their neighbors.
That last is especially interesting, since I’ve heard winemakers express widely different views on how they should relate to their neighboring (and competitive) colleagues. In Paso Robles, Calif., for example, I was told by many people that “what benefits one of us benefits all of us.” In other areas, it’s everyone for himself.
The organization itself is a part of a company called The Vineyard Team, managed by Beth Vukmanic Lopez. With her degree in agricultural business, she directs and promotes the SIP program, which was launched in 2008.
“What sets us apart,” she says, “is that our certification program is very rigorous. We set a high bar for sustainability, and for helping our growers learn from each other.” Currently, the program has certified over 43,000 acres of vineyards, from Santa Barbara, Calif., to the north coast.
“The goal of SIP,” she continues, “is not just to help growers pursue water conservation and the integrity of the soil. We’re involved in issues like social responsibility, safe pest management, wildlife support and alternative energy.” The program requires members to offer employees competitive wages, medical insurance and other support, use beneficial insects in the vineyard and work toward converting to energy sources like wind and solar.
Several SIP certified wineries sometimes go delightfully off the reservation in the grapes they choose to promote. I received a set of sample bottles that included under-the-radar varietals like Picpoul, Falanghina, Tannat and Lagrein, among others. Here are some SIP wines we enjoyed, along with new discoveries.
Claiborne & Churchill Dry Riesling Edna Valley 2017 ($22) — This SIP certified wine hails from the San Luis Obispo/Paso Robles region, which is well worth discovering. Since it’s 100% tank fermented and aged, the floral notes are quite fresh, and the citrus on the palate is very much alive, along with dimensions of lemon and apricot. WW 90.
J. Wilkes Lagrein Paso Robles 2016 ($30) — Another SIP certified discovery from Paso Robles, this unusual red varietal is bursting with ripe berry aromas and flavors. Since it was aged in French Oak for 15 months, the old world earthy notes really come through, supported by firm tannins. Try it with hard cheeses like a crunchy Gouda. WW 92.
Frank Family Chardonnay Carneros 2016 ($38) — The deep rich yellow color and aromas of butter and oak promise concentrated flavors to come. The palate, however, offers surprise flavors of melon, vanilla and succulent tropical fruit. A winner. WW 93.
Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford 2017 ($15) —Pleasant light lemon color and a nose of lemon blossoms and minerals. The mouthfeel is soft, with mild acidity. Maturation in stainless steel brings out graceful notes of lemon and a touch of pineapple. Very pleasing. WW 89.