The popularity of farm-to-table restaurants and organic produce is seeping into the wine industry as more producers adopt ‘green’ practices.
But their motives for making organic, sustainable and biodynamic wine may be more personal than business, although the practices also improve the quality of the wines.
“Most of the wineries are family-owned businesses and they saw this as a better way to farm. They wanted to pass on healthier farms and businesses to the next generation,” said Gladys Horiuchi, a spokeswoman for the California Wine Institute.
She added that more than two-thirds of California’s acreage and production is certified as sustainable.
Chris Millard, winemaker for Napa’s Newton Vineyards, famed for its unfiltered Chardonnays, said it is very expensive to be organic.
“We are not organic. We are not biodynamic. We’re not ‘green’. We’re sustainable,” he said. “And by that, I mean that we encompass the whole business of making wine. Being sustainable in the vineyard and taking care of the land.”
For Millard, being sustainable means taking care of the land, and the people who grow the grapes and make the wine, and earning enough to stay in business.
Organic vines are grown without pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. Each country has different criteria for certification and some wineries are organic, but red tape and additional costs inhibit them from filing for certification.
Biodynamic wines follow the principles of biodynamic agriculture, which stem from the ideas of early 20th century Austrian philosopher and architect Rudolf Steiner, who argued for understanding the ecological and spiritual in nature.
Biodynamic producers care for their vines, pruning and picking them according to the phases of the moon.
Gina Gallo, winemaker for the world’s largest winery, E&J Gallo, said her grandfather Julio was one of the biggest organic farmers in California.
“My grandfather just believed that if he’s going to have it on the table, it was like the food on the table coming from the garden,” she explained. “And today, we still use a lot of similar approaches.”
Mike Benziger of Sonoma’s Benziger Family Winery combines all three practices in his wine production.
“It does take more of an effort to farm, in the beginning, using biodynamic or organic practices. You have to invest in the knowledge, learning how to do it,” he said, adding his family produces certified sustainable, organic, and biodynamic wines.
“For us, we found that certification is important because the consumer wants it,” said Benziger, who with his family produces about 150,000 cases of wine a year.