Wine Gourmet  

Making wine can be a mucky business.  (Photo: Flickr user, tzapata)
Making wine can be a mucky business. (Photo: Flickr user, tzapata)

Green wine making: what is it?

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Before reading the article, if you could be so kind as to send me a quick email [email protected] as to how you would like this article to be formatted. Do you enjoy the informative dissertation about different regions and wines or would you just like a selection of wines for the weekend?

Your response is VERY important to me as it will give me an indication of what to write about. Looking VERY much to hearing from you.

Making wine can be a mucky business. Just ask anyone who has crushed grapes, either at home or helped in a winery. Take a look at the vineyards and wineries during harvest time and you will have an idea of what I mean.

But also the process of growing the grapes can be a very dirty and somewhat unhealthy business. During the growing season, growers spray pesticides, fertilizers and weed killers in their vineyards. And the grape industry is not the only one that does this. Living here in the valley, we see this every spring, tree fruit growers are out there in their space suits spraying stuff on their trees.

The wineries need clean equipment and sulphur has long been used to sterilize. How does this impact the process?

Then there are the farm vehicles, the trucks, tractors and other fuel-burning heavy machinery that wineries use to work in the fields, hauling grapes and wine around. And we have not even started on the heavy glass bottles that are transported by air, land and sea and their contribution to everything.

How much of a “carbon-footprint” are wineries creating? With all of this going on, is there any possible way to make the wine-making process truly “green”? If so, how do you go about it? Do you have to become Amish (maybe they have something there)? And how will this change in practices affect the final product? Is it possible to make “green” wine that tastes good?

Organic farming is not a new phenomenon. It has been the way food was produced for thousands of years up until the use of synthetic fertilizers and chemicals in the last century.

The popularity of organic farming principles surged in the late 1960s and 1970s, and soon afterward, the US government banned the use of DDT. By the 1990s strong consumer demand for organic produce created the necessary momentum to establish standards for certifying organic foods.

It seems as though the term “Green Winemaking” is being talked about quite a bit these days. Usually, it is used in conjunction with other words like organic, biodynamic and one of my favourites, sustainable. These all evoke warm, fuzzy feelings as if by buying wines labelled as such, we are helping to saving the planet.

Organic Viticulture is, in a nutshell, the elimination of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides that are used to control weed growth, any infestation of pests or any vine diseases that can affect the growth of the vine.

Biodynamic Viticulture uses the basic principles of organic farming but also integrates such practice as planting or harvesting during the alignment of planets, phases of the moon, and other new-age rituals.

Sustainable Viticulture has the same objective as organic or biodynamic viticulture. However, while some vineyards and wineries may practice this, sustainable grape growing is an all encompassing approach to the environment and not just the crop itself. It is a commitment to improving environmental practices throughout all winery operations including vineyard management, habitat management and the winemaking process. Yet, there is some confusion around this as this is more of a philosophy or way of life than a set of rules or regulations and can be interpreted differently. In addition, there is no legal obligation to follow any of the criteria for sustainability.

There also seems to be a trend in marketing where the term ‘Green’ presents to the consumer the impression that certain products are organic. With the wine industry in Canada, if you are labelling your wines ‘Organic’, they have to be certified by Certified Organic Associations of BC or COABC. This governing body also is regulated under the Canada Organic Regime, which is part of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the acknowledged authority overseeing the classification. COABC adopted the Canada Organic Standard as the criterion for the BC Certified Organic Program as of Jan 1, 2009. For more info on this, check out their website at www.certifiedorganic.bc.ca.

It is interesting to note that with the term ‘Organic Farming’, most people think of it in terms of what is NOT allowed to be used, produce grown without synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers or GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

However, simply removing chemicals from the equation is just not enough to turn an ordinary farm into an organic one. To farm organically is a very labour-intensive process.

Here in BC it is better to think of Organic farming under the umbrella of Sustainable Viticulture. Promoting the sustainable health and productivity of the ecosystem the soil, plants, animals and people is what sustainable farming is all about. Organic farming is not so much about what chemicals are not used in the vineyard but more about interacting and protecting the soil and surrounding environment.

One of the wineries at the forefront of organic farming in BC is Summerhill. Certified as an organic farm for quite a few years now and certified on the production side since 2007, they are also in the process of becoming certified Biodynamic by Demeter Biodynamic. With over 50 member countries, Demeter Biodynamic is the oldest traditional organic certification in Europe and is regarded as the highest level of organic farming certification in the world.

From the vineyard all the way through to the winery storage tanks and hoses used to clean them, everything is administered and accounted for by the Pacific Agricultural Certification Society (PACS), which is overseen by the COABC. PACS was formed in 2001 in order to provide organic certification to an ISO (International Standards Organisation) Guide 65 compliant standard.

The COABC is extremely strict when it comes to materials used in an organic production facility, whether it is a winery, vineyard or an orchard. The list of permissible substances is governed by the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) and it is long a full 23 pages of what is allowed to be used in organic production.

To be certified organic, the vineyard must remain chemical free for 3 years. After that, the vineyard would have a scheduled visit by a Verification Officer (V.O.) once a year who could also drop by unannounced at any time. All records pertaining to materials used in the vineyard and winery must be available to the V.O. for inspection.

If the vineyard or winery has been found to be using banned substances, they are de-certified for 5 years. Then they can start all over again, which means waiting another 3 years while in transition. A total of 8 years for screwing–up.

In BC, the organic movement as pertains to winemaking is expanding. Currently, there are 7 wineries certified with 6 in transition to being certified along with several vineyards that are certified and in transition.

Today, organic farming is practiced in almost every country in the world. More than 86 million acres of agricultural land are certified according to organic standards (data as of the end of 2008), according to the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said "We did not inherit the Earth from our forefathers, we are borrowing it from our descendants."

In Vino Veritas

Weekend Wine Picks:

The 2005 Villa Cerna Chianti Classico Riserva ($38) is a blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Colorino Toscano, aged 14 months in oak and a further 10 months in bottle. Loaded with dense aromas of black plum, black cherry, raspberry, cedar, tobacco, licorice, cocoa, smoke, mushroom, saddle leather, black olive and vanilla, the flavours are absolutely delicious with an abundance of black and red fruits, licorice, smoked meat, cocoa, roasted coffee and dried herbs. This definitely goes best with food, preferable Italian or could be cellared for another 10+ years.

Do not let the name dissuade you from buying a bottle. If you are looking for an ass-kicking wine, look no further than the 2007 El Burro ‘Kickass’ Garnacha ($19 PWS). This remarkable wine is produced from one of the top wineries in the Cariñena region of northeast Spain, Bodegas Ayles. Dark as the night and loaded with fresh blackberry and raspberry jam, leather, licorice, menthol and black pepper spice, the palate is lush and full with rich juicy black fruit flavours, spicy cocoa and chocolate, vanilla and Asian spice box. Velvety soft acidity and ultra firm tannins mark this as a wine to enjoy over the next 2-3 years.

The 2006 Moda Montepulciano D’Abruzzo ($20) is a better than excellent value for the money, it is an outstanding buy. Slow to open up, after 30 minutes look for rich, spicy black cherry, aromatic tobacco leaf, spicy smoky, plum, prune, licorice and graphite. Velvety soft acidity, medium tannins, it is absolutely perfect with homemade Chicken Cannelloni. Rady to enjoy now, this wine is able to be cellared for another 2-3 years.

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