Living in Santa Cruz, I have to take a lot of shit about being a “hippie”. Now, keep in mind, I’ve only seen one or two pure-bred hippies in this city during my fives years of residence. But there sure are plenty of hybrid bum-hippies, academi-hippies (liberal arts is not a real major, kid), politico-hippies, and hipster-hippies (*shudder*, thankfully I made that one up).
But they don’t count, right? Although, I do share a bunch of “Santa Cruz values” (like “San Francisco values”) with them, like for example, the love for natural products, including organic vino. In fact, excellent local vendors Staff of Life
and New Leaf
stock a bunch of organic bottles. But if organic is so cool, why are almost of the wines I buy there are kinda, you know, blah? No offense guys, I still can’t get enough of your produce!
Generally, organic is defined by what it’s not: nasty chemicals and shady hormones (kinda like a suburban rave
!) (Earthbound Farm
). Not long after living around Santa Cruz you end up driving by a farm and see this:
If he has to wear a space suit to protect his skin from the gnarly stuff being sprayed, I sure as fuck don’t want to eat it. Hence, go organic (no space suit required!). Unfortunately, grapes don’t have it easy when it comes to a straight-edge lifestyle. You’ve got Piece’s disease, Powder mildew, grape-berry moths, and my personal favorite, the fungal Black Rot (Wikipedia
). You can’t help but think grapes could use a bit of extra chemical assistance to get by (just like myself during extended family visits). But really, there’s no need. Many simple, natural techniques do the job just fine (TreeHugger
). Got Powder mildew? Be diligent about picking your leaves. Bugs getting their nom-nom on? Invite in some natural predators, like birds, to live the vineyards. There’s no silver bullet, but you’ll a common theme: let the grapes live in a natural, diverse environment. Sure, say goodbye to tidy, homogeneous vines, but that’s boring anyways. Seriously, wouldn’t you rather hang in a biodynamic vineyard?
Benziger Vineyard, Glen Ellen, CA
In fact, that brings up the biodynamic thing. But we’ll chat about that another day.
As far as organic wine
is concerned, organic grapes are simply not enough. The USDA defines organic wine as one made from organic grapes and without added sulfites (techniques less than 100 ppm). Sure sounds good, but natural production and sulfur are not mutually exclusive. The fact remains, it’s pretty hard to fight mildew without a little bit of the stinky stuff (Organic Wine Company)
. For sure, ditch it if you can, but don’t let the “organic wine” tag deter you from the prize: a damn fine glass of wine. So what does organic get you? A label. A guarantee, kinda. Depending on who certifies you, you can assume a certain level of avoiding nasty practices. But really, what we’re after here is fucking good wine, not hippie points. Organic grapes definitely help, but they are useless in the hands of those who do not understand their terroir. Wine-makers who take the time to experiment with natural techniques instead of taking the easy chemical route will be rewarded. And really, that’s all in their head, not the standards for organic certification.
But goddamn, I do love me some organic wine. Case in point: 2005 Delmas Cuvée Berléne Blanquette de Limoux
. I received this little sparkler from my financée’s generous Aunt and Uncle as part of a gift. The wines happen to be imported by the excellent the Organic Wine Company
. As the only sparkling of the ménage, it did not have long to live in our wine rack.
Wine by France, Greens by Earthbound Farm
This unassuming sparkler sure had a lot to say. The nose was an almost over-powering butter and yeast combo. A quick one-two of yeasty flavors on the entry, then unexpectedly turning to a citrusy sweet mid-palate moving into a dry, mineral finish (are we talking wine or pastries here?). Not bad for a little Limoux.
However, for every organic wine I love, there’s another that’s – lets be blunt here – terrible. Organic grapes are only one aspect of a good wine. Kick-ass terroir and winemaking technique matter way more when it comes to a truly enjoyable wine. As Cory and I have been exploring our natural wine fetish, we’ve found that producers are shifting their focus away from Organic certification, and instead focusing their efforts on total quality craftmanship from vine to bottle. For example, our friend Bob over at Varner Wines
couldn’t care less about the certification process, even though his vineyards surely meet the standards.
So, is the wine organic? Great. Better yet, is made by someone who knows how to handle that organic grape.
Next up: Tracie B. visits the epicenter of the biodynamic movement; or: The barrel is shaped like an egg to birth the wine.