There was a time when wines made with organic grapes were considered inferior. Wine shops would carry a few for the true believers but only on shelves in a corner.
Times change, however, and as science, taste and financial benefits grew, wineries began to convert to organic and sustainable practices. For many years, though, those wineries preferred not to tout these factors on their labels.
Today, more wineries are eager to announce environmental practices in their vineyards. And with the increase in awareness of climate change, making a positive impact on the environment and in people’s lives is driving even more action.
Climate change presents a major challenge for agriculture. And while systemic change is necessary, individual choices matter. Confident in the quality of the wines they make, wineries are pushing the frontier of eco-conscious viticulture. While focusing on immediate concerns such as erratic weather, they recognize that to be sustainable they must look to the future.
This is nothing new to Martha Barra, proprietor of Barra of Mendocino and Girasole Vineyards. Her husband, Charlie, began buying vineyards in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino in 1955. Today, Martha continues the “all-organic-for-the-last-65-years” ethos, along with winemaker Randy Meyer. “It is also important we have been certified organic since 1988. Certification matters,” she told me.
Two wine options to try are the concentrated 2017 Barra Petite Sirah ($22) and the elegant 2019 Girasole Pinot Noir ($20).
Concerns about climate change and sustainability span worldwide, and another leader is Symington Family Estates, a prominent vineyard owner and producer in the Douro Valley of Portugal. CEO Rupert Symington noted that the vineyard has signed on to the Porto Protocol — a statement of principles that companies voluntarily commit to pursue to minimize the effects of climate change and to share their experiences.
“We are committed to improving our sustainability practices (including carbon neutrality before 2050) and those of our industry,” Symington wrote in an email.
Introduce yourself to the family with the intensely flavored 2019 Vale do Bonfim ($13) blend of native varieties. And don’t forget their refreshing Dow’s and Graham’s Ports.
Sustainability also travels with the grapes into the winery. Barra pays close attention to packaging, using cork made of sugar cane when it isn’t using screw caps, lighter bottles and packaging that disintegrates. Symington is building a low-impact winery it hopes to be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified.
And sustainability applies to the community. According to Martha Barra, at her winery they are careful to ensure workers have adequate housing, transportation, meals and pay above the average compensation. Symington is certified as a B Corporation; these corporations consider the impact of their decisions on workers, customers, suppliers, communities and the environment.
“B Corp. is a particularly exciting departure for us as it ... involves our staff as well as the community around us and obliges us to make continuous improvements,” Symington said.
I call it drinking well while doing good — a smart way to celebrate Earth Day.