Today, many consumers are seeking healthy choices, some of which extend to their wine purchases — the term “natural wine” might evoke sun-dappled vineyards with smiling peasant folk gathering grapes.
Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? But unlike USDA organic wines, Sustainability in Practice (SIP) wines or biodynamic wines — which are regularly inspected by certifying agencies — many so-called natural wines don’t have to meet any particular standards. A wine billed as “natural” could still come from a vineyard that’s filled with synthetic pesticides, and unless the label clearly says, “No Sulfites Added,” a natural wine might have added sulfur dioxide.
If you are seeking “healthy wine,” you need to know there is no scientific evidence that natural, biodynamic or USDA-certified organic foods are healthier or more nutritious to eat or drink. There is, however, considerable evidence that organic and sustainable farming practices that use fewer pesticides and synthetic compounds are healthier for the environment.
So, while many consumers are dedicated to looking for wines labeled as “green wine,” “natural wine,” “biodynamic wine”, or “organic wine,” the Sustainability in Practice (SIP) Certification is a unique combination that goes beyond those labels.
Sustainable wine is often confused with organic wine, yet these two things are not mutually exclusive. Sustainable wine may or may not be organic and wines that are produced organically may or may not adhere to sustainability guidelines. Basically, sustainable wine is defined as follows: “The inherent concept is that the product has been made in such a manner that it will allow the vineyards and environment to continue to produce an undiminished product for all future generations. The main threats to sustainability are the issues of soil depletion, erosion, water pollution, loss of biodiversity, ecological impacts, resistance to pests and chemical dependence. Sustainability looks at the environmental system as a whole. In the vineyard, it may incorporate man-made products or “natural” products, and it will likely use integrated pest management (IPM) techniques. In the winery, minimal-additive winemaking philosophies will always be present.”
Imagine a wine that builds community between vineyards, workers and the land. The vintner takes into account every single aspect of the winemaking process. Sustainable agriculture is designed to ensure that fertile soils exist to produce hearty grapes for years to come and that vineyards and their workers are both dedicated to the same sustainable practices.
Organic wines, on the other hand, can be categorized into two parts, organic vineyards or organic wines. Organic vineyards are managed “without the use of systemic fungicides (fungus control), insecticides (bug control), herbicides (weed control) or synthetic fertilizers. Vineyard sprays are still used, but the products are different.”
Weeds are controlled through mechanical methods, such as plowing, hoeing, mulching or mowing and fertilization is done via compost mulches, green manures or animal manures. The definition of organic wine is different in every country but in general, the guidelines are similar.
Organic wines are made from “organic grapes” that must contains less than 100–120 mg/L of total sulphur dioxide. Sulphur dioxide occurs naturally during the fermentation process and it’s sometimes added to enhance microbiological/oxidative stability. There are other more natural or organic ways to increase clarity, filtration and stability such as adding milk and egg whites.
The mere mention of sulphur dioxide brings us to another category of sustainable wine: “wines without preservatives.” These are wines that are made without any external addition of sulfur (although some is always present due to fermentation and/or vineyard — there are no sulfite-free wines), anti-oxidants or anti-microbial agents. However, most vintners agree that judicious use of sulfur can aid in the shelf life of wine.
Lately, there has been some discussion about “Vegan Wines” begging the question: aren’t all wines free of animal products? The simple answer is no, they’re not — almost all commercially available wines use some kind of product to make the wine clear by removing sediments in the wine. These clarifying agents are called finings; and come in many forms, some are derived from animals such as: gelatin, egg albumen, casein from milk and isinglass from fish bladders. Many of these animal by-products are removed after the fining process ends, but vegans and many vegetarians would prefer to drink wines that have no association with any animal product during the winemaking process. Vegans need to look for wineries that use bentonite clays and other clay products as a fining agent.
SIP-certified wines differ from organic wines in that wines earning SIP Certification go beyond the USDA Organic certification process. While you’ll find many organic wines that are also SIP Certified, the SIP process focuses on sustainable practices on every level of the winegrowing process, from farm labor to agriculture – from energy conservation to water quality. It’s an additional way for consumers to know they’re buying sustainable wines that give back to the land and community on every level.
Since spring is on its way and soon we will be sipping lighter and more barbecue-friendly wines, here is a list of affordable certified sustainable wines to try:
• Chenin Blanc (Steen): 100% Chenin Blanc, 100% Stainless Steel fermented, Single Vineyard “Vineyard Creations.” This wine has enticing aromas of melon and graceful floral citrus blossom. The flavors are generous exotic tropical fruit, fleshy yellow peaches that are refreshingly dry on the palate with a lively fruit and acid balance.
• Sauvignon Blanc: 100% Sauvignon Blanc, 100% Stainless Steel fermented, Single Vineyard “Vineyard Creations.” This is a light bodied dry white wine with bracing fruit flavors that refresh the palate with enticing pineapple layered with chalky mineral green pepper aromas. Dry bracing crispness on entry followed by fresh tropical fruit intensity that is well integrated with a zesty acidity and a citrus fruit finish.
• Shiraz: 100% Shiraz, Single Vineyard “Vineyard Creations”. American Oak Staves fermented. A crushed mulberry and blackberry intensity extends to attractive clove, black pepper and coriander spice notes in this deep ruby colored wine. Smooth and juicy with assertive red and black berry fruit flavors that are in perfect harmony with the well-defined, yet restrained ripe tannins and well integrated wood.
• The Beach House White is a delicious, dry and refreshing, Sauvignon Blanc (80%) Semillon blend(20%). Playful lemon grass and gooseberry aromas are layered with hints of honeysuckle and tangerine that race across the palate in a refreshing burst of tantalizing citrus fruit finishing with vibrant crispness. The moderate alcohol make this wine deliciously drinkable.
• The Beach House Rosé 100% Pinotage is a beautiful and brilliant salmon-pink colored wine made from 100% Pinotage. There are distinct aromas of freshly crushed strawberry, ripe cherry and hints of Turkish delight in this well-balanced and crisply refreshing pink. On the palate, it’s gushing with rich red berry, spice and lasting fruitiness. It’s perfect on its own and with all types of summer fare.
• The Beach House Red is an 85% Shiraz, 20% Mourvédre and 5% Viognier blend. Ravishing ruby red color with heaps of pepper and mulberry aromas and flavors. The acidity and residual sugar are well-balanced with juicy berry flavors making this an easy drinking, well-rounded red wine.
Boulder Bank Wines, Marlborough New Zealand
Flying winemaker Nick Goldschmidt makes these single varietal, single vineyard offerings that showcase not only the essence of the varietal character but also the uniqueness of each vineyard site in his native New Zealand.
• Boulder Bank Sauvignon Blanc: 100% Sauvignon Blanc from The Kerseley Vineyard, located at Dillon’s Point in the celebrated Marlborough region. This fragrant white is ripe and tangy, brimming with pear and juniper aromas and flavors that keep singing through the long, refined mineral finish.
• Boulder Bank Pinot Noir: There’s a peppery quality to this medium-bodied wine. It offers a creaminess in addition to the cranberry, plum and cherry flavors, with plenty of spicy, herbal notes of clove and nutmeg. The gripping tannins show a great focus and persistence through the finish.
Another red offering to try also comes from Nick Goldschmidt:
• Chelsea Goldschmidt Merlot, Dry Creek Valley. This Merlot comes from the Crazy Creek Vineyard in the renowned Alexander Valley wine region. Its old, low-vigor vines consistently produce Merlot with more power and depth than typically found in the appellation. Stylistically, this is a Cabernet drinker’s Merlot — with full-bodied fresh black raspberry, cedar, and toasty vanilla aromas, and cherry, black currant, and spice flavors. There is lot of power with wood and firm tannins behind the fruit.