Food & Drink » Anthony Gismondi on Wine

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What’s red and white and green all over? The new colour of wine



By Anthony Gismondi

The current rush to organic anything may seem like a passing fad but when it comes to grape growing, sustainability and the environment are heading for prime time.

Wineries across the globe have been working to minimize their footprint on the land and whether it’s practicing sustainable agriculture, organic farming or the holy grail of organics -- biodynamic farming-- the move to environmentally-friendly grape growing and winemaking is underway big time.

No chemicals is the mantra for organic grapes but The Oxford Companion to Wine struggles to define organic wine, calling it an “imprecise term for wine made from grapes produced by organic viticulture using a minimum of chemicals during winemaking.”

According to Sainsbury’s, a leading UK’s supermarket retailer, that recently launched a new line of SO organic wine, there are over 500 organic wine producers worldwide and many more are trialling organic wines.

This month California biodynamic (organics +) producer Mike Benziger made the cover of the ultra-conservative, Wine Spectator magazine, signalling a major awakening of American consumers and producers with respect to wine production as it relates to the stewardship of the land.

Biodynamics is based on a holistic approach to farming developed in the early 20th century by the late Austrian scientist-philosopher Rudolph Steiner. It embraces the idea that the world contains an energy force that is in tune with cosmic rhythms.

“While it encompasses many of the principles of organic farming, such as the elimination of all chemicals, biodynamics goes further, requiring close attention to the varied forces of nature influencing the vine,” says Mike Benziger, the winemaker at Benziger Winery in California. “It also emphasizes a closed, self-sustaining ecosystem.”

The theory isn’t for everyone. I asked New Zealand’s leading biodynamic advocate James Milton how one could interest growers and consumers in biodynamic wines, given its obvious spiritual component.

“Think of life as a series of windows you can choose to open and explore or not,” he said calmly.

Benziger explains biodynamics as, “The science of enhancing and connecting energy sources into a holistic system. It connects us to the universe through the sun that drives photosynthesis in our vines. It connects us to the earth through the complex and dense web of roots.

“The more diverse, the denser and the more connected an environment of plants, animals and microbes are on a piece of property, the more concentrated the natural energies are. These energies evolve with care over time to form a ‘consciousness’ which the land takes on.”