I have had the good fortune of being surrounded by environmentalists for much of my life.
I have fond memories of travelling abroad to bring two small boys home at summer’s end. They had spent time with their grandparents exploring, picking wild berries and having the finest cold-water trout.
This was all on the largest expanse of virgin forest left standing east of the Mississippi River; a land of pristine lakes, towering pines and sparkling rivers, even a waterfall and small town that bear the family name of my wife.
Archeologists tell us her ancestors settled there some 10,000 years ago, during the Copper Age.
I am heartened by the amount of folks now asking for advice on wines that are produced with consideration for the health of our planet. There are three main categories: sustainable, organic and biodynamic.
I like to think of sustainable as a method of minimised water use, control of run-off and soil erosion, reliance on renewable energy, the conservation of wildlife habitat and much more.
According to the Wine Spectator, “[Sustainable] strives for ecologically sound, economically viable and socially responsible goals.”
The Napa Valley Green Certified is such a group and among its members are our Beringer, BV, Cuvaison, Etude, Franciscan, Pine Ridge and Stags Leap Winery. I consider them basically organic, but with the ability to dial 911 when they need a little help with a man-made compound to stave off destruction of their crop.
Since 2010, any New Zealand wine that wants to be part of their national and international marketing or award events must be audited under independently sustainability programmes. Hopefully, you are familiar with names such as Mt Difficulty, Matua Valley, Oyster Bay, Kumeu River, Te Mata, Nobilo, Starborough, Whitehaven and Monkey Bay.
I am not sure how to classify the world’s largest winery, Gallo, as they started a programme in the 1930s called 50/50 Give Back. This policy leaves an acre for wildlife habitat for every acre that they plant to vineyard; they own over 20,000 acres and 90 brands. How do we pigeonhole Shafer in Napa Valley who are not certified by any rules but are 100 per cent solar-powered, reuse and recycle their water, make their own compost for fertiliser, partner with owls, hawks, bats and other wildlife to control rodents? Cover crops and house friendly insects to control harmful ones.
Most of us understand the meaning of organic and that it bans synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fungicides and dictates responsible use of the land. One example is our range of value-priced wines from Veramonte in Chile that will shortly be fully certified as they move up from sustainable. The truth is that in the case of our wines there are more that have moved on to biodynamic practices. Last week, I was enjoying lunch with a winemaker/winery owner that farms in this way. He agreed with my explanation that organic does not destroy the environment and biodynamic not only does not destroy, but also restores and heals. I find it remarkable that a plot of land can produce a quite different wine from its neighbour. The French call it terroir, or sense of place, and after hundreds of years of taking from the land it starts to lose this unique character. Biodynamic brings it back.
Biodynamic came into being about 100 years ago when farmers in Poland became concerned that new products were being used that killed off the biodiversity of the soil and promoted faster growing and bigger plants with much less character. (Did you know that the bacteria on Earth weigh 3,000 times as much as the human population?)
In stepped Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher, with his concept of biodynamic farming. Of course it is organic, but it also heals the land with natural composts. Some think it a little kinky, as starlight falling on the crops is considered to have an effect, even that our planet breathes energy in and out at certain times. Much importance is given to the positions of the moon, planets and heavenly bodies in general as a timetable is followed in the vineyard.
Biodynamic winemakers claim to have noted stronger, cleaner, more vibrant tastes as well as longer life in their wine. In a blind tasting of ten conventional and ten biodynamic wines conducted with experts by Fortune magazine, biodynamic won nine out of ten.
Seresin Estate in Marlborough, New Zealand is biodynamic and, to quote them: “We see the vineyard as a living organism, a space that our workers, animals, wild birds and flowers, worms and insects can share. Our wines express this sense of life and harmony.”
Knowing that meat production produces over 50 per cent of all greenhouse gas, Michael Seresin is a vegetarian. His sauvignon blanc, pinot gris and pinot noir are so wonderful. We carry two pinot noirs from Kai Schubert in Wairarapa, North Island.
One was awarded “the best pinot noir in the world” in London a few years ago. He is biodynamic.
Chapoutier, in the Rhone Valley of France, is possibly the best-known biodynamic producer there and we have such a range from him. Look for the Demeter-certified label to be sure, as he does buy some outside grapes for some of his wines. Our main supplier from Burgundy is Joseph Drouhin and they farm all their own land biodynamically. Like Seresin and others, they literally rely on horse power. All of their Drouhin Chablis is biodynamic, but for a few of their large-production wines, such as pouilly fuisse and beaujolais, they do buy outside grapes. Pascal Jolivet farms most of his land for sancerre and pouilly fume organically, and is moving towards biodynamic as is Michel Laroche and all of his Chablis. Robert Sinskey in Napa Valley is biodynamic. There are those I do not have room to mention; maybe another time.
Wine is literally the soil and its biodiversity, rain, wind, temperature and all that goes on during the seasons. A good winemaker merely guides the process and lets Mother Nature take her course.
• This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. E-mail email@example.com or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St George’s (York Street, 297-0409). Visit www.wineonline.bm</i>