Earth Day is celebrated internationally on April 22 each year. Senator Gaylord Nelson started this environmental movement in 1970 when high levels of air and water pollution were business as usual. Many laws including the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act followed shortly after, and now, after 40 years, being green has garnered more interest than at any time since then.
The idea of being environmentally conscious and responsible has also evolved from those early days–it’s no longer just air and water. Here at Total Wine and More, we believe that brewers, vintners and distillers are the new leaders in the movement, creating environmentally sustainable products that do not pollute or strip the Earth of its resources.
Between farming techniques and the use of ingredients produced under strict sustainable standards, beer, wine and spirits companies are leading by example. Many are so passionate about the cause that they have become early developers and adopters of certain certifications and their rules, despite the additional cost and resources needed to obtain them.
Traditional farming practices use herbicides, pesticides and artificial fertilizers, where the only goal is to protect the crops and deliver the best yield. There are, however, three other strategies that are more aligned with the mission and traditions that Earth Day stands for.
Organic Farming means that no pesticides, herbicides or artificial fertilizers are used when growing the crops. In addition, vintners are not permitted to add any preservatives to their wines. Though most brewers do not grow their own ingredients, several have taken the initiative to use organically grown products. Daniel Del Grande, owner and brewer at Bison Brewing, exclusively brews organic beers. “Organic Dan” as he known in some social networks, said he does this to support organic farmers who he believes are the key to sustainability. His mission is to educate consumers and retailers about the positive environmental impact, helping create demand for those organic farmers, to the point where they ultimately convert all of their fields to organic farming. And when asked if one small brewery can make a difference, Daniel gave a resounding “yes”, offering some statistics to back up his enthusiasm.
Several spirit makers also use organic ingredients in their products. Florida’s Drum Circle Distilling uses organic sugar cane when making its Siesta Key rums. And Bainbridge Organic Distillers uses locally grown organic grains from Washington for their vodka, gin and whiskey.
Wine makers are often able to go beyond the organic certification since they often grow their own grapes. A farming practice called Biodynamic Agriculture was started in 1924 by an Austrian philosopher named Rudolf Steiner. Steiner created the method to help farmers have an ecological and sustainable approach to growing their crops. Biodynamic Agriculture embraces the practice of not using herbicides, pesticides or artificial fertilizers (and is thus also organic). However, the practice also considers the farm as one ecosystem and provides rules for how the farming must be done. Plants, animals, insects and soil are all considered as one. Farmers irrigate based on the lunar calendar. Byproducts such as grape skins and seeds taken during the harvest are composted and returned back into the vineyard. Wineries that follow these and several other guidelines can become Demeter Certified Biodynamic.
Virginia “Ginny” Lambrix, the winemaker from Truett Hurst, said their estate is currently in the process of achieving biodynamic certification. She believes that creating an ecosystem that mimics nature and keeps chemicals out of our natural resources is worth the cost and effort. “Wine is a luxury product with a relatively high rate of return on the farming investment. If there is one product that should be amenable to a more cost intensive farming method, it seems viticulture is a natural fit. Furthermore, higher quality grapes yield better wine and I do believe that vines growing in living soil and extracting their nutrients naturally from it are in fact higher quality and value.”
Sustainable Farming is another technique being used. Sustainability takes into account conservation and employee practices in addition to the farming practices. For example, energy saving solar panels may be installed on the buildings and water conservation and irrigation techniques may be developed. Although sustainable farming does still allow fertilizers, the practice encourages as few chemicals as possible and only to use them when necessary.
We spoke with Paul Sobon, the winemaker and vineyard manager of Sobon Estate, about his winery and approach to farming. Paul said that although they had been previously certified organic, their approach should now be defined as sustainable farming. Paul said their mission is to keep what is in nature in balance and let the quality soil nurture grapes into tasty wine. His winery runs on solar power, they compost all waste materials created in the wine-making process, and recycle, among other sustainable practices. “Sustainable farming is definitely worth the money,” he said.
To get you started, here are some delicious, “Eco-Friendly” selections, just follow this link.
Happy Earth Day!