GRAPEVINE – July / August 2007

Tim's Wine Market

Tim’s latest print newsletter is heading your way, but in the meantime, enjoy it all online here – new SPOTLIGHT WINES, new articles on ITALIAN SUMMER WINES and BURGUNDY and a little bit of knowledge below. Enjoy!

Wine and the Green Movement
If you should ever decide drop the nine to five routine, buy a small piece of land in Napa Valley and make a little wine, you may be in for a few surprises. I am not talking about the price of land, the cost of making it a vineyard or even the six to ten year wait until you have something to sell. No, what may surprise you the most is how hard it is to buy water and sewer rights or to even build a winery at all. Even though grape growing is the main product of most wine regions of the world, the industry realized a bit earlier than most that what they do has a severe ecological impact on their environment. For that reason most of the world’s wine regions have taken steps to limit their use of natural resources to just what is absolutely necessary.

Modern winemaking is a very dirty business. Grape vines are susceptible to an amazing number of bugs and diseases that all want to kill the vine or eat the fruit before it can be harvested. After WWII the answer was petro-chemicals in the form of fertilizers, pesticides, antifungal and herbicidal applications. The mantra of the great winemaking schools around the world was better living through chemistry. Over time these applications built up in the ground, to the point where they were becoming poisonous to the very vines they were trying to protect. At the time when I entered this business in the late 1980’s it was commonly known that Burgundy’s soil was reaching such a toxic level that many feared for the sustainability of the region. About that time a movement started promoting organic and biodynamic grape growing as a way of working with nature to harvest healthier grapes and ultimately make better wine. Although not every winery observes such practices, it is rare to find anyone trying to make serious wine that does not limit their use of as many chemical applications as possible.

Once the grapes are harvested wineries also produce a tremendous amount of waste as they are processed into wine. Equipment and barrels must been cleaned and sterilized with lots of water to prevent bacterial issues. Grape pomace has to be discarded, as well as the lees and fining agents from tanks, which is so significant that it has to be shoveled out in most cases. Wine itself is toxic in large quantities to most sewer and septic systems and spillover and runoff from pumps and tanks has to be accounted for when planning a winery. Winemakers and winery owners were ignorant of these issues until the last decade but now almost everyone is taking steps to make their winery eco-friendly. Drip irrigation, which is now the standard for all high quality vineyards around the world is a response to a better understanding of water management and causing less problems that need to be corrected with chemicals (to prevent things like fungus.)

This is a bigger issue than just whether the vines are raised organically or not. Sustainable is the new buzzword as wineries try to blend with their environment. It is a philosophy that transcends the vineyard practices as well as the winery management. I was stunned to see what a big issue this has become in my last two trips to Napa as well as my recent travels to Spain. When I attended Pinot Camp in Oregon three years ago there was a three hour demonstration/seminar showing how serious the majority of wineries in that state feel this issue has become. While many vineyards may be pressured to act in this way out of regulation in these regions, you get a sense from most wine people that they understand this is how they should act, in harmony with nature. So the next time you read an article on the rise of greenhouse gases and the dwindling water supply, know the wine industry is not only aware of the problems but actively trying to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.