I often look at the chemical ingredients in what I buy. I shop at farmers markets for organic produce and use green cleaning supplies. So, it caught me off guard when a friend remarked, "you are so aware of what you eat, why aren't you just as curious about what you drink?" Well, we drink organic coffee but not organic wine. I was worried about sacrificing taste and I just didn't think most vineyards were heavily sprayed with pesticides. Then I learned that wine grapes are the second most sprayed crop in the state. This didn't seem like it could be that good for the farm workers, the Earth, or the consumer. Several studies have found trace amounts of pesticides in wine. They may be at extremely low amounts, but what kind of impact could pesticide residues have overtime?
Armed with a new green cause, I set out to find more information about eco-wines. I learned that organic wine is just one type of green wine -- there is also wine made with organic grapes. It turns out I had been drinking some of these wines and enjoying them. The thing is, you can't call it "organic wine" if the wine has added sulfites, a naturally occurring compound. Most winemakers add sulfites to help preserve the wine and make it more stable. If a wine is made from organic grapes but contains sulfites, the world "organic" can only be mentioned as part of the ingredient claim on the back of the bottle. No wonder I didn't know I was drinking wine farmed organically.
It turns out northern Sonoma County and Mendocino county are hotbeds for green wine. In the course of reporting this story, I visited several of these wine makers. Bonterra Vineyards, below Ukiah, has been farming organically since 1987 and now farms one of their ranches, McNab, biodynamically. Their red blend is nicely balanced and tastes very good.
Biodynamic is a novel form of organic farming practice with its roots in France. A biodynamic vineyard is a self-sustaining ecosystem -- making organic compost, removing chemicals from the soil and farming with the cycles of the Earth. Biodynamic has its own international certification. (Here is a list of their certified wines). Just up the 101 from Bonterra is Parducci Wine Cellars. This family run company is farming organic grapes and in some cases, biodynamically. Parducci also claims to be one of the most sustainable wineries in the country.