Leaping Forward into the Past
Celebrating Earth Day last week reminded me of the growing trend toward organic farming in the vineyard and organic practices of many wineries.
Although only about 5 percent of California wineries are certified organic, variations of sustainable agriculture can be seen in any vineyard up and down the state. Most wine drinkers I know turn up their noses at organic wine, pointing out the lack of good color and blandness of quality. I doubt pesticides are a great flavor additive so I was curious to find out what makes wine organic and why it has a bad reputation in the market place.
An American wine labeled “organically grown” or “made from organically grown grapes” means that the vineyards have been handled in accordance with the organic certifying agency of the state in which they were grown. In California, that’s the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF).
Sustainable agriculture has no legal definition, but generally refers to vineyards using environmentally friendly techniques, such as owl boxes to encourage predators of gophers, cover crops to stimulate the populations of beneficial insects, composting for fertilization and Integrated Pest Management for pests and diseases.
The California Organic Food Act of 1990, which was modeled on the CCOF regulations, put organic wine requirements into law. This means the fruit is certified organic, and the wine is made with no sulfites added. Sometimes the wine is fermented with only the yeast found on the skins rather than with strains of special wine yeast, and only naturally occurring fining agents, such as certain kinds of clay, are used to clear the wine of any cloudiness.
Most winemakers are business people and organic methods have to reflect their bottom line. According to the CCOF, organic farming is becoming an increasingly viable alternative to industrial agriculture. By adopting organic practices, growers can reduce costs and conserve resources while providing health and environmental benefits. Their On-farm research comparing organic practices to conventional approaches has shown the potential to maintain yields and profits.
The Demeter Association is another certification program that goes a step further; it is based on biodynamic agricultural principles emphasizing living soil, the farm as a holistic organism, and that the farmer supports a broad ecological perspective that includes the cosmic influences and rhythms of which the earth is a part.