Green Is Good, But Quality Rules

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - February 03, 2010
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An elegant, complex Cab

You see it everywhere. “Green” this, “green” that. The wine scene and business are no different. The movement toward sustainability in viticulture as well as the estates and facilities where the wines are made is still on the upswing. And it is all for the good of the environment.

So is it all as good as it sounds?

You might think there are more wineries that are being certified organic or bio-dynamic every year. And that would be true.

But let’s take a closer look, specifically at sulfites, which is what people are most concerned about because of allergies, asthma, headaches and even more serious health effects. Certified organic wines can have naturally occurring sulfites, as long as the total level is less than 20 parts per million. Sulfites are naturally produced through the fermentation process, so all wines will have sulfites, unless it is a “desulfite-ed” wine.


But did you know that there are only four wineries in California that do not add sulfites and are certified organic? They are Frey Vineyards, Coates Vineyards, La Rocca Vineyards and Organic Wine Works. It is truly important for those that are ultra-sensitive to sulfites to read the label. Just because a wine is certified organic doesn’t mean it does not contain sulfites.

Interestingly, there also is a healthy and growing population of producers that practice organic or biodynamic in some part but are not certified.

You may ask why not. Well, it costs extra time and money to become certified. Many small producers do not see the benefit of having the extra “label.” They would rather concentrate their resources on making a better wine than having an asterisk after their name. In addition, many producers would rather retain the ability to correct certain maladies in the vineyard or in the wine without breaking any of the tenants of organic/biodynamic certification.

In other words, they aren’t going to sacrifice one year’s crop of the quality of the wine just so they can say they are organic/biodynamic. As one winemaker put it to me, “Would you like a good wine or a wine with a nice label?”

Restaurateurs and retail shops across the country also are making special mention of “green” wines either on the shelf or on the wine list. The little green leaf or other indicator next to the name of the winery on the wine list is nice to see, or an extra tag on the shelf shows up more often.

But, for my own part, the greatest wine lists in the world are not the ones that only feature “green” wines. It makes me feel good to promote these wines, but it is a wholesale philosophy that puts “greenness” before greatness, and it comes from the leadership or ownership of each establishment.

For the most part, dedicated wine retailers are not as encumbered with carrying only organic/biodynamic labels. They can spread their selections out more widely if they choose to do so.

Seeing a “green” option for a wine on a wine list or in a wine shop has never stopped me from getting the wine I want. Don’t get me wrong, I love the way that organic and biodynamic agriculture promote the health of the environment. I am all for preserving our heritage for our descendants. But just because it is “green” doesn’t mean it is better. I would rather drink quality without the label. They are not mutually exclusive. There are great organic and biodynamic wines out there. But green doesn’t always mean go.

Recommendations: 2005 Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cepages ($65) This Cabernet blend manages to retain a beautiful elegance while still delivering a great amount of thick, juicy complexity. It also is a wine that will repay cellaring for a few years as it still has even greater heights to attain. 2007 Laporte “Bouquet” Sauvignon Blanc ($17) The name says it all with an ethereal floral bouquet along with a piercing citrus flavor. This is great for salads and fresh seafood.


Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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