Drinking Green: 10 Wines for Earth Day

A guide to sustainable vs. organic vs. biodynamic wines — and what it all means.

We commemorate Earth Day with words like “sustainability,” “organic,” “eco-friendly,” and “green.” What do these words mean and do they actually impact what we drink? There are many different third-party certifying agencies when it comes to farming including sustainable, organic and biodynamic. Is this all hocus-pocus and gimmicks? Are the wines better for you?

One thing is certain: It’s more expensive and labor-intensive to farm using any of the following practices, but that does not ensure a better-tasting wine. The reduction of harsh chemicals into our food chain is always better than adding more, therefore The Hollywood Reporter helps guide you through the strange labyrinth of “green.”

Sustainable

There are many different certifying agencies, including SIP (Sustainability in Practice) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, all of which aim to achieve the same thing: farming responsibly in such a way that your soil, water and neighbors won’t be disaffected down the road.

Though there are a myriad number of sustainable programs in the U.S., sustainable certification does not mean an absence of herbicides and pesticides, just a reduction of them. At its best, sustainable farming addresses practices on every level, from farm labor to agriculture, from energy conservation to water quality and maintaining natural habitats.

Organic

Organic farming is a step up from sustainable and, strictly speaking with wine, there are two distinct organic methods: organic farming (using organic policies) and organic winemaking, whereby the process of physically making the wine or spirit employs organic methodology. Therefore you can conceivably have a wine grown with organic grapes, but not be “made” organically. Confusing? Yes. A game-changer? No.

Organic is nonetheless a smart idea in that the grapes are treated with fewer chemical applications and the health of soil is better in the long term. Yes, organic is trendy and there are loose rules with organic farming. However, when it comes to pesticides, herbicides and harmful chemicals, less is best.

Biodynamic

Formally introduced by Rudolph Steiner via a series of lectures in the 1920s, biodynamic is often misunderstood and misinterpreted. Its essence is a combination of sustainable and organic ideas, but it goes even further, envisioning the farm as a closed-loop system, itself a living, vibrant organism. The tenets go back thousands of years, so there is nothing new or mysterious (aside from mixing herbal “teas” in copper pots and stirring it one specific direction, harvesting by the lunar calendar depending on the Earth’s gravitational pull, and burying a cow horn with manure in your vineyard).

Getting certified biodynamic by Demeter is a life-altering experience and only for those that are hard core. If that type of farming seems ludicrous, consider what winemaker Frank Hildebrand of Narrow Gate Vineyards in El Dorado County told me as he stood next to his property's 50-ton manure pile, which he uses for mulch.

“Traditional farming takes from the soil and gives nothing back. Organic takes from the soil and replaces what it takes out. Biodynamic takes from the soil and gives back more than it takes out.”

Take a look at some examples of wines from each category below.

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