Unless you've been living under a rock for the past decade, you know about the "green" revolution. If you're interested how the eco-movement affects your wine, read on.
1. What does "green" really mean?
"Green" is a pop culture term, so it doesn't have an "official" or standardized meaning. Though you can usually count on "green" wineries to at minimum use organic grapes (more on that below), many wineries are really upping the eco-friendly ante. They are using alternative sources of energy (like solar), making a big effort to conserve water, and recycling production materials. Some are really going back to the earth by using traditional, rather than chemical, methods to maintain soil health.
2. What does "organic" really mean?
When we think organic, we think of small farms, but in the age of health food superstores, the meaning of the term "organic" isn't that simple. Wines labeled organic are made from grapes that have not been treated with chemical pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, or fertilizers. But be careful: while USDA-certified "organic" or "100 percent organic" wine, in addition to being made entirely from organic grapes, doesn't have added sulfites, wine labeled "made from organically grown grapes" may contain them. But what's the big deal with sulfites?
3. What are sulfites, and why do I care if they're in my wine?
Sulfites are chemical compounds that occur naturally in all wines. They are also often artificially introduced, either to stop fermentation at a certain point or to preserve the wine and prevent oxidation. Sulfites have been added to wine for hundreds of years, but have recently become a hot-button issue because of their allergy-causing properties. In fact, sulfites are one of the 9 top food allergens. Asthmatics and those prone to migraines are at special risk. If you're concerned about sulfites, make sure the label says, "no added sulfites." But be careful: many many foods contain sulfites, and most producers are not required to put that information on the label.
4. What about "local" wines? You probably won't be able to find many wines that are both organic and produced locally, but just buying ones that are local can lessen your carbon footprint. Locally produced goods require much less fuel because they don't have to be shipped long distances, and buying them also supports small businesses. Plus, buying wines locally means that often, you can talk directly to the farmers, who will know much more about how the grapes are grown and the wine is produced than your local grocery store clerk will.
5. Does it taste better? Of course, it's silly to think of "organic" as a synonym for "good." But according to a recent UCLA study, organic wines in the mid-to-high price range (over $25) scored higher than comparable non-organic wines. Here are two possible reasons: 1. The absence of chemical additives improves taste. 2. Organic grapes are often of higher quality, and in fact, many vineyard choose to use organic grapes for the taste, even if they aren't running a "green" operation.
6. Is it more expensive? Here's a real shocker: organic wines above the $25 barrier are priced, on average, 7% lower than their non-organic counterparts. What gives? Organic wine became popular in the 70s, and because of less-than-stellar production practices, tended to be of poorer quality and also to turn to vinegar faster. Modern organic wines don't have these problems, but the stigma persists. In fact, many wineries that produce organic wine tend to ignore the fact on the label--and are able to charge 13% more for their superior product. So cash in on the organic deal--at this rate, the false "hippy wine" stigma won't last.