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.
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.
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