Eco-Vino

I'll be honest: Despite the greening of my pantry, I've been slow to embrace organic wine. After a less than tasty experience a few years ago with a bottle of organic red from a California winery that shall remain nameless, I've been swearing off the stuff because it either hasn't been up to snuff or is just too darned expensive.


Mendocino Wine Company's Paul Dolan.

A recent run-in with a 2007 bottle of "Sustainable White" by Parducci Winery has me revisiting the eco-vino issue and I'll tell you why: The wine is delicious and under 10 bucks a bottle. A blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Canelli, Tokai and Viognier, "Sustainable White" and its sibling, "2005 Sustainable Red" are part of a year-long partnership with Whole Foods, where it's sold exclusively between $8 and $9.99 through December. To be clear, the "Sustainable" sibs are not certified organic (95 percent organic grapes grown without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides or added sulfites, as per the National Organic Program), but are well on their way.

Parducci is one of six brands under the umbrella that is Mendocino Wine Company, a partnership formed in 2004 by two winemaking families, the Dolans and the Thornhills. In the course of my sipping, I learned that in April, Parducci announced its conversion to becoming 100 percent wind and solar power-operated, calling itself the "nation's first carbon neutral winery. What that means exactly is one of the reasons I caught up with Paul Dolan, a fourth generation winemaker, by phone last week.

It's about measuring your carbon foot print," said Dolan, who was president of Fetzer Vineyards for 12 years before buying Parducci. "And the things that you measure are the things that you impact." To that end, Dolan says, the company has greened up several aspects of their operations, including packaging (labels made from post-consumer paper and soy inks), fuel (biodiesel for equipment) and the aforementioned wind power -- carbon credits which he considers critical because redirecting investment towards renewable sources insures that less energy is pulled from non-renewable sources. "It's the fuel that is the resource that is going to generate investment," he says.

For its 350 acres, MWC has 35 local growers, 80 percent of whom have received training in biodynamic viticulture and/or fish-friendly farming. Biodynamics, an organic farming system conceptualized by Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s, "crucially views the soil as an integral part of the symbiosis between planet, air and cosmos," according to the Oxford Companion to Wine," using the lunar calendar for planting. Fish-friendly farming sounds like what it is -- farm management practices with conservation of neighboring watersheds and habitats in mind. At present, the certification program is limited to wine producing areas in California. When asked if MWC vineyards bordered particular bodies of waters at risk, Dolan said: "Yeah, sure, the Russian River is the major watershed in Mendocino County, where we grow our grapes. But the issue here is, how do you do things that contribute to the quality of life? And why wouldn't we want to consider the fish in our practices?"

Of its 350 acres, says Dolan, 70 are certified biodynamic, 130 acres are organic and in process of becoming biodynamic and the remaining 150 acres is a mix of organic and organic-in-progress.

The quick success of the Sustainable line, says Dolan, means it is here to stay and will become available in more mainstream retail sectors beginning next year. For under $10, these siblings are a terrific value; the white offers plenty of citrus notes with a pineapple-y nose, and it works equally well as a sipper and a companion for grilled fish. It also pairs with the spicy stuff, as I discovered last week with a bowl of shrimp curry. The red is cherry in the mouth, berry in the nose, and it plays nicely with all things cheddar-y, as with a thin pizza.

Have you found eco-friendly wines that are equally friendly on the palate? Share your finds in the comments area.

Talk to me today at noon for this week's What's Cooking.

By Kim ODonnel |  May 13, 2008; 9:24 AM ET Eco-Bites , Q&A , Wine and Spirits
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I had a trip to California a couple of weeks ago where I planned in a couple of free days in the greater Mendocino County area. I stopped by this winery along with Jeriko and Benziger (which is in Sonoma County), both of which also have organic and biodynamic lines. Each place had their own unique efforts underway to increase their sustainability and a great attitude about their responsibility in protecting the environment. Contrast with some of the mega-bottlers in the Napa area that tend to view themselves at odds with the natural environment, it was very welcome to see.

I am also very glad to hear that Parducci has an affordable line. Given the smaller nature of the biodynamic vineyards, it was seeming like all the grapes end up in higher-end Reserve batches - and thus well beyond my typical price range. Even at a higher cost though, now that I've seen the good and the bad of wineries closer up, perhaps I'll space out my purchases a little more and just give my patronage to those doing it better.

Posted by: Jon | May 13, 2008 10:47 AM

My relatives have a place in Dry Creek called Preston Vineyards. It's lovely to visit (bocce... hot bread from the forno... vegetables to ogle...) and they've been working towards sustainability for decades, really:

www.prestonvineyards.com

Preston of Dry Creek is an organic family farm rooted in the agrarian traditions of Dry Creek Valley. We make broad and best use of our land by tending vines well suited to our distinctive terroir and creating limited production wines from the best and most interesting grapes. We produce fresh, delicious products from our olive groves, garden and commercial bakery. At Preston we subscribe to organic farming and minimalist winemaking, preferring purity of flavor and product while sustaining our environment. We welcome visitors to our peaceful oasis with genuine hospitality.

Shameless of me, but you asked! They actually used to produce a lot more wine (and perhaps then cheaper) but dialed way back some years ago to preserve a simpler way of living. They speak to this on their site & blog.

Posted by: MamaBird/SurelyYouNest | May 13, 2008 12:01 PM

Shafer, in Napa incidentally, is known not only for their internationally-acknowledged great wines, but also for their impressive sustainable agriculture practices. Wine you feel good about drinking definitely doesn't have to taste "good for you" and instead can taste amazing.

Posted by: Colleen | May 13, 2008 1:00 PM

Isn't there already a wine blog? And if there isn't already an "eco" blog, there should be one. Bring back the basics. Remember the grilled cheese sandwich? Eco is good--but it's not what most people are looking for in something called "a mighty appetite." Maybe you should rename this, "an eco-friendly dainty politically proper and decorous sampling of exotic foodstuffs with ingredients only available from ethnic markets in the Washington-Boston corridor."

Posted by: Bertson | May 13, 2008 2:37 PM

Be real Bertson, Parducci produces 120,000 cases a year. It is sold in most, if not all, of the 50 states. That is hardly a small winery selling only to the Washington-Boston corridor. I can't think of the last time Kim blogged about wine (if ever).

Posted by: Centreville | May 13, 2008 4:30 PM

It's about time a "green company" offers an affordable product. The Parducci wines have always been high quality with out the high price. I recently tried a Petite Sirah from them and it was awesome. I can't wait to try a bottle of Sustainable Red and Sustainable White. Bravo Paul Dolan and Parducci Winery!

Posted by: Scott | May 13, 2008 5:59 PM

Centreville: If you just happened to be the distributer or some other commercially connected person, that would make you the unreal one. How many unconnected people know the distribution and production numbers of a small company? Kim, tell me it ain't so!

Posted by: Bertson | May 13, 2008 6:55 PM

Bertson: It's called Google. And no, I'm not a distributor, wine writer, etc. I'm not remotely connected to Parducci or the alcohol business and frankly, last time I tried a bottle of Parducci, I didn't like it. But to say that it is a "small company" and talk about it as if it is some boutique winery that no one can find a bottle of? That is ridiculous.

Posted by: Centreville | May 14, 2008 1:25 PM

I occasionally buy organic, not because I believe in the canard that non-organic* is bad. Rather, people who produce organic food really care about what they're making.

With regards to wine, organic means little to me, because any wine maker worth his/her salt cares deeply about wine. That is not to say that I haven't had very good organic wines, but that they don't stand out.

BB

*Organic = CHON (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen)

Posted by: Fairlington Blade | May 14, 2008 7:46 PM

Bonterra from Ukiah, CA is amazing. We have tried all they make and never been disapppointed. MOMs carries their wine, but I am sure other places do, too.
Here's their site:

http://www.bonterra.com/

Posted by: Anonymous | May 16, 2008 10:49 AM

Locally, Black Ankle Vineyard in Mt. Airy, MD is set to release its first bottles of biodynamically grown wine in June. I participated in the building of their strawbale and natural plaster tasting room. Check them out: www.blackanklevineyard.com

Posted by: MBinDC | May 20, 2008 12:55 PM

Badger Mountain Winery in Richland, Washington has organic wines. In addition solar panels provide electricity for their tasting room.

Posted by: S.C. Jeffrey | May 23, 2008 12:30 PM

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