“For winemakers and consumers alike, wine is a story waiting to be unraveled that you hope on some level creates a minor shift within you.” Neeta Mittal, Founder LXV Wine.
With Joe Kara and Tiffany Caronia.
Sustainability applies to many areas of our lives, including our wine selections. When we want to choose a wine that fully reflects our values as yogis, there are a lot of important considerations to take into account. There is more information to evaluate beyond color, region, varietal, blend, or year. How the grapes are grown and how the wine is produced are both part of an intimate relationship with what it means to be sustainable.
According to a recent 2012 LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) study performed by the Natural Marketing Institute, 34% of all wine consumers consider sustainable or environmental attributes to be a deciding factor when purchasing wine. If wine-drinking yogis were polled, the numbers would likely be even higher.
This commitment to sustainability is shared by wine growers and wine makers alike. Allison Jordan, Director of Environmental Affairs at Wine Institute and Executive Director of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance notes, “We have seen a steady increase in participation in the Sustainable Winegrowing Program as well as the Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing program. While we are seeing increased use of technology in vineyards and wineries to help with decision-making and efficiency, we are also seeing increased adoption of best management practices that lead to real, on-the-ground improvements.”
Fifth generation winemaker and avid yogi Karl Wente of Wente Vineyards uses technology to help adopt a series of best practices through weekly aerial imaging, probes to monitor soil moisture, and sensors to monitor how water moves through the vine. He says, “In the vineyard we are very careful with water. Ten years ago you’d give the vine a drink whether it needed it or not. Now we’re able to give it a drink only when we know it needs it.”
These wineries, such as the third-generation family-owned Frey Vineyards, take their environmental stewardship seriously. As the U.S’s first organic and biodynamic winery, caring for the groundwater of their home region is as important as crafting the wine itself. The philosophy of biodynamic wines is “to make as un-manipulated a product as possible, sourcing everything locally, so that the wine is a real reflection of what was happening in that part of the world at the time of production. This allows the vintages to change from year to year,” explains Katrina Frey. All biodynamic wines are organic. And beyond organic, there is an emphasis to see the farm or vineyard as an organism. Farmers grow crops and/or use manure for compost and also set aside 10% of the farm to preserve biodiversity allowing the land to be a natural sanctuary to restore balance and health to the property. Biodynamic farming includes some more esoteric practices as well; the idea is, Frey says, “to energize the soil and plants.”
There are many creative and dedicated practices of sustainability in the wine industry. For example, at boutique California winery LXV, Neeta Mittal says, “We adopt practices characterized by a systems perspective of stewardship of natural and human resources. We only source from vineyards that are Sustainability in Practice (SIP) certified. The facility where we make our wines has a system of fans and vents that draw in cool night air. Instead of using harsh chemicals, the facility relies on water pressure, steam, ozone, and other methods that leave minimal chemical residue behind. For the wine bottle itself, we use lighter weight bottles, made in the US, and we recently bottled our first wine without capsules.”
Karl Wente from Wente Vineyards describes some of his family’s wine-making ethos, “In the winery we utilize some common sense practices: recycling glass, cardboard, and much more. Although a fairly recent buzzword, sustainability has been a part of our DNA since Carl Wente planted his first vine in 1883.” In addition to adhering to the principles of sustainability and environmental stewardship as outlined by the California Wine Industry in its Code of Sustainable Winegrowing, Wente Vineyards also utilizes and follows ecological guidelines set by the Bay Area Green Business Program and the National Audubon Society.
Cheryl Durzy, VP of Sales and Marketing for her family’s winery Clos LaChance in California’s Central Coast, shares the three main tenants of sustainability: environmentally sound practices; an economically viable business; and social equity, meaning the business is conducted in a fair and ethical manner. The sustainability practice goes way beyond the growth and production of wine as it looks at the overall picture of the business. All Clos LaChance wines are sustainably produced as well as vegan with two vegan branded wines – Vegan Vine Chardonnay and Vegan Vine Cabernet Sauvignon – on the market.
Durzy states that while there is no official product certification for a sustainable wine, the California Wine Growing Alliance will credential a vineyard and/or winery as sustainable, which can be mentioned on labeling. Vineyards are given an annual sustainability score and have to present a yearly plan for improvements and show progress to maintain their sustainability certification.
This is a powerful set of standards to uphold and it benefits -everyone, from the wine-growers to the sellers to the consumer, as well as the earth. Studies are finding levels of the herbicide glyphosate (one brand name is Roundup) in conventionally grown grapes and wine.
Winestyr Wine Club cofounder and CEO Bob Wilson carefully curates a selection of portfolio wines, many of which are sustainably produced and/or organically grown. He also acknowledges the growing trend of biodynamics within the sustainability community. “Biodynamic farming got its start in the early 1900s with Rudolf Steiner. Long story short, biodynamic agriculture is similar to organic farming, but takes a much more esoteric and holistic approach. Proponents argue that biodynamic wines are of higher quality than their conventional counterparts. Many of the best wine producers in France have adopted biodynamic winemaking techniques.” The Demeter Association is the organization that oversees biodynamic agriculture certifications with a mission for “Healing the planet through agriculture.”
Soil supports the vine—and the wine. As Wente says, “There’s an old adage ‘Take care of the land and it will take care of you.’ The closer you are to the soil, the better. Our fields are treated with respect. They aren’t under or over grazed. My sister’s children run around these fields. I want the ground they play on to be of the highest quality and that translates directly to the wine. Healthy soils lead to healthy grapevines, which lead to healthy fruits. Healthy grapevines and healthy fruits lead to deliciously flavored wines.”
However a wine is grown, how it is processed determines whether or not it is vegan. Vegan restaurant and wine bar ELOVate’s Chef Roberto Martin says, “Many wines are clarified using animal products like egg whites, fish mulch, or milk proteins. This makes them unavailable to eLOVate for our vegan wine collection. Luckily, there are some spectacular wines now that are produced unfiltered or filtered through ceramic or clay systems. We have found amazing wines made by this process.”
A number of these sustainable, vegan, natural, biodynamic, or organic wines can be found around LA. Lorna Donahue, owner of Hollywood’s Wilde Wine Bar and Restaurant says, “we try to offer a wide variety of wines by the glass that are sustainable, natural, biodynamic or organic. We try to get small production, family owned and farmed wines, and love to offer more unknown grapes or wines where the winemakers are reviving lesser-known ancient grapes, so the wines are as people have been drinking them for centuries.”
Donohoe continues, “Practicing yoga and drinking wine (meaning good organic or sustainable wine) have much in common. Their enjoyment requires us to be fully present and aware of all of our senses. Both are about balance and can be meditative experiences. They both release endorphins. You don’t need to be an expert to enjoy them, as each experience is unique to our individual body, mindset, senses, and even balance in that moment. The practice of yoga and the responsible enjoyment of sustainable wine can each cultivate harmony with nature, the earth, and yourself.”
When we consider combining our love of wine with the culture of yoga, we can feel grateful that many wine producers are embodying the practice. Wente says, “My yoga practice keeps me grounded and balanced. This is who and what I want to be, and it’s how the wine needs to be.” He also applies this to how he walks the vineyard.
Mittal agrees, “Yoga is an embodiment of mind, body and soul – a way to harmoniously synchronize all three to create a deeper sense of living, to respect the ‘now’. It is with the same reverence that we indulge in winemaking and drinking.”
When discussing where to begin the enlightened exploration of wine, Chef Martin offers this thought, “My first suggestion is to drink what you like.” Beyond drinking what you like, educate yourself about the wines you drink so you can make the wisest decision. Organic, sustainable, biodynamic, and natural (reading the fine print) are all excellent options in getting to know your wine.
Read Your Wine Label
Sustainable differentiates itself in consideration of the overall picture of the ecosystem. The California Sustainable Wine Growing Alliance will credential sustainable vineyards and wineries based on a set of specific criteria.
When the National Organic Program certifies a wine it means the vineyard’s entire process is organic from the growing of the grapes through the fermentation process. Additionally, a certified organic wine must be additive free. Sulfates are used in conventional wine-making to extend the wine’s shelf life and prevent oxidation. Organic wines do not include sulfates.
Grapes are grown organically.
According to Wilson from Winestyr, “Another trend we’re seeing in winemaking is ‘natural’. This means that essentially there is very little manipulation or intervention, nothing is added to or removed from the wine.”
Vegan wines can fall into any of these categories. Wilson says, “Wine is generally a vegetarian product, however, some of the fining agents that are used include egg whites, fish product or bone marrow. Vegan wines do not allow the use of these fining agents. Many wines (specifically wines that are unrefined/unfiltered) are, in fact, vegan even if they don’t promote it on their label.”