On Earth Day, I’ll Take My Wine Organic

Every community celebrates Earth Day – or, more accurately, International Mother Earth Day, as the United Nations renamed it in 2009, though I’ve never heard heard anyone use that wordy title. School kids plant flowers, neighborhoods sponsor cleanups, environmentalists remind us to reduce, reuse, recycle. It all helps.

This year, Earth Day stands out for a couple of reasons: more than 150 UN members will sign the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, an initiative supported by all 196 member-countries across the planet, pledging to strive for no more than a 1.5ºC global temperature rise. And the Earth Day Network, the group that first organized Earth Day in 1970, set this year’s theme as “Trees for the Earth” with the goal of planting 7.8 billion trees over the next five years.

Organic wine

My contribution will be a glass (or two) of organic red wine. I’ve tasted organic wines from various countries, including Chile, Argentina, Spain and Portugal. But if it’s made in the US, it must have that little green sticker you see in the photo above, “USDA Organic” – the US Dept. of Agriculture’s stamp of approval – or the winery can’t claim it’s organic.

For winemakers, it’s not easy being green. The government’s National Organic Program (NOP) set forth its requirements in a 7-page labeling guide. The most important feature of organic grapes is that they’re grown without fertilizers or pesticides. There’s a difference between organic grapes and organic wines – long story – but basically a vineyard must be free of substances on the NOP’s list of prohibited materials for three years before it can be certified organic.

So, how to keep a vineyard free of chemicals? By getting creative, mostly, and spending money. Spraying fertilizer and pesticides is easier and cheaper than investing in mulch to keep weeds down, or buying specialty soaps to help control insects. Some vineyard managers buy predator insects to eat the bugs that destroy their grapes. Some of the organic processes call for more people in the vineyard, which always drives up the cost.

And sometimes nothing works. If the vines become diseased or a pest invasion overwhelms the vineyard, the winegrower has no choice but to get rid of the problem as quickly and painlessly as possible. Once a non-approved fertilizer or pesticide is used, the vineyard loses its organic certification and has to undergo the long process of trying to go organic again.

It’s easier to grow organic grapes in some parts of the country than others. Few growers attempt it in the Midwest, for instance, because the humidity makes it easy for mold and rot to take hold of the vines, while dryer environments see fewer disease and insect problems.

Corks

But since few of us are lucky enough to own vineyards or wineries, there are other ways we can go green with wine. One is to recycle corks. We’ve all seen “cork art” – I’m not a fan, though I’ve seen a few works that were extraordinary. But there’s an easier way to recycle your corks, and that’s to sell them online, for about a dime each. A bag of 100 can bring you a cool $10, and they weigh so little, shipping costs are minimal. (You can sell those dreadful plastic corks, too, but you’ll only get about 5 cents each for those.) Some sellers “batch” them in different ways – Spanish wine corks, California corks, French corks.

Empty bottles

You can sell your empty wine bottles, too, for about $1 each. These cost more to ship, of course, but people who make their own vino need them. Soak the labels off, and you might want to separate them by color and shape.

Box wine

One last way to reduce your environmental footprint, wine-wise: drink boxed wines. It takes far fewer natural resources to manufacture and ship cardboard boxes with rubber bladders inside, than glass bottles. And stop snickering; some of this stuff is delicious. (And yes, some is nasty.) I’ve had great luck with Big Sexy Reds produced by Bota Box, Vin Vault and Black Box.

If you want to go on record as an “official” supporter of curbing climate change, go to the Earth Day Network’s website, http://www.earthday.org, and become a “citizen signer.” You can brag about it to the kids someday – over a glass of organic wine.

Wine Lingo of the Day =  Sustainable viticulture, growing grapes in a way that not only protects the environment organically, but also considers the long-term future of society and wine growing, addressing such issues as global warming, greenhouse gases and water usage.

[Photos by Mary Mihaly, Deb Harkness/Flickr (corks), Monika Andrae/Flickr (empties) and anokarina/Flickr (boxed wine).]

Cheers!

Mary

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Like Water for…Wine?

So…how are you celebrating World Water Day today?

What’s that you say…you actually went to work??!?

I get it; it’s been a fairly obscure holiday. But back in 1994, the United Nations designated every March 22 henceforth as UN-Water Day. It makes sense, since 71 percent of our planet is covered with the stuff, and more than half of us (1.5 billion) work in some water-related job. It makes even more sense that this year’s theme is water and jobs, focusing on how enough quality water can change lives and even transform societies. Just ask Lady GagaPharrell Williams and Beyoncé, celebrities promoting the cause.

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And we know what water means to our favorite vines. Wine guru Jancis Robinson has written that in arid regions, grapevines reach as deep as 20 feet underground to quench their thirst. Water carries nutrients from the soil up into the plants, which need 20 to 30 inches of water (from rain or irrigation) every year. We’re talking about some 19 million acres of vines across the globe, giving us 70 million tons of fruit, about 70 percent of which end up in our wineglasses.

Is that wine-geeky enough for you? Here’s a little more: During photosynthesis, water molecules combine with carbon to make glucose, the main source of energy for the vine. It gets complicated, though. How well water performs its many tasks can be impacted by evaporation, climate, soil type, and a slew of other factors. Not enough water and the vines undergo “water stress” – essentially, the grapes stop ripening. Give them too much, especially at harvest time, and the grapes get waterlogged; they swell up, their sugar is diluted, and the outcome is a crop of bland, watery-tasting grapes (and wine). I saw this dynamic firsthand years ago, when I used to grow my grandma’s black raspberries – those vines loved a good downpour in the spring, but come June and early July, they needed bright, hot sunshine to give us the sweet berries we waited for every year.

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An over-abundance of water can bring other challenges, too – bacteria, mold, fungi. Good drainage is essential. And all of these water-related factors can vary between regions, vineyards, even individual vines.

The wine in your glass is 80 to 90 percent water, almost all of it from grapes themselves. So when we raise a glass to celebrate Easter this weekend, maybe we can pause to appreciate the delicate balance achieved by those smart, long-experienced winegrowers all over creation. They use their water well, don’t they?

But if you run out of vino, don’t try changing jugs of water into wine. That job is taken.

Cheers, everyone! And if you want to keep reading about wine and spirits every week, please click on the “Follow” button in the bottom righthand corner of your screen and BigSexyReds will appear in your mailbox.

Wine Lingo of the Day:  Coulure = In English, it translates to “shatter.” Coulure happens when the tiny flowers on the vine fail to develop into healthy berries, and is often brought on by cold, rainy weather, especially in spring.

Happy sipping,

Mary

[Photos courtesy of cold bologna and whity at Flickr.com.]