Organic farming doesn’t just produce pesticide-free food to munch on, it is also yields a number of excellent wines. Capturing the attention of wine buyers and oenophiles alike, earth-friendly vino is increasingly available at the best wine stores and high-end restaurants. We’ve found that not only is an unadulterated glass of wine good for the planet, it can also make for a tasty libation.
Avoiding conventionally farmed produce has become important to many folks. Awareness of the toxic effects, and possible cancer-causing components, of pesticides, weed-killers and fungicides has brought about a special focus on small, family-run, organically-farmed produce that is both good for our health and less harmful to the earth. Now that organic food is part of the mainstream, it was only a matter of time before organic wines hit the limelight.
Health benefits aside, organic wines, for the most part, are delicious. Of course we cannot state they are all wonderful because it is possible for a winemaker to make a bad wine out of good grapes, just like a lousy chef can create a bad meal from good produce. Having said that, after tasting dozens of earth-friendly wines, we discovered that there was very little not to like.
But that wasn’t always the case as Kirk Grace, the vineyard manager at Robert Sinskey Winery in Napa Valley, California confirms. “It is important to us that organic farming is less costly to the earth but we still have to make a good product,” he says. “Past organic wine producers were predominantly made up of people who didn’t so much care about the quality of their wine as they did protecting the earth. I have seen that radically change over the past few years and a lot of focus is now placed on the quality of taste.”
Organic isn’t the only quality wine out there; we are also hearing a lot of buzz around another realm of farming known as biodynamic. Donna Binder, co-owner of the organic wine bar and restaurant Counter, in the East Village of Manhattan, expounds, “There is even more so of a trend for biodynamic wines than for organic wines.” She adds, “Because it was only the smaller, more boutique producers who made biodynamic wines it became a bit of a cult thing. Now it’s actually heading into the mainstream and we’re seeing a lot of well known producers turning organic and biodynamic.”
Biodynamic practice is based on an agricultural theory that was developed by Rudolph Steiner in the 1920s. While organic farming is a matter of not using man-made chemicals, biodynamics takes farming several steps further by engaging the entire eco-system in and around the vineyard. Vine growing and vine nurturing methods are also carried out according to a calendar that is based on lunar patterns and cosmic rhythms. It is as much a philosophy as it is an agricultural system.
Robert Sinskey has become one of the benchmarks for organic and biodynamic farming to produce quality wines in California. Sinskey acquired 15 acres of vineyard in the Carneros region of Napa Valley in 1982. He has since expanded to almost 200 acres in five different plots in Carneros and he has gone from conventional to sustainable (when a winery incorporates organic principle while still, sparingly, using conventional methods) to fully organic and now biodynamic. Kirk Grace describes biodynamics as a natural transgression from organic.
“On a sliding point scale, where 1 is entirely conventional and 10 is fully biodynamic, you will find that organic and biodynamic meet somewhere in the middle.” Turning a vineyard organic and biodynamic does not happen overnight, it is a gradual process and Grace avers that they still aren’t certified biodynamic but he intends for Robert Sinskey vineyards to soon become fully certified.
Two of the principles in the Sinskey philosophy are to “Farm conscientiously and make wine with minimal manipulation to create cuisine-oriented wines of balance,<