Planet-Friendly Wine

Basil Magazine, April 2014

Sustainable, organic, and biodynamic farming are three methods of growing grapes naturally for the California wine industry. Each has a specific set of rules. All three take into consideration not just the health of the plants, but of the humans working there.


Sustainable farming takes a serious look at reducing the carbon footprint so reductions in water use, power use, and more come into play. An example is either restricting the speed of cars driving through the vineyards, as at Marimar Torres Winery in the Russian River Valley, or banning them altogether and using golf carts, as at Dominus in Napa Valley. The California state program was based on Lodi Rules, a local and very successful program put into place in that appellation. Organic wine, as defined in California, is made first from grapes grown without herbicides, pesticides or chemical soil amendments in the grape growing phase, and second, without the addition of sulfur dioxide solutions or sulfur salts (sulfites) in the wine making phase.

For many years it has been common practice to add sulfites to wine as a protection against oxidation and bacterial spoilage. However, modern wine making equipment allows the production of sound wines with less of these additives. Sulfites are naturally present in small amounts in wine and other foods since the abundant element, sulfur, takes many forms as a part of all living things. These substances are added as sulfur salts or sulfur dioxide solutions to the juice before fermentation and up until bottling.


Unfortunately, sulfite additions by wine makers can be excessive, masking delicate flavors, assaulting the nose, and even causing headaches and allergic reactions to those people especially sensitive to sulfites. Chronic asthmatics (5% of all asthmatics) are especially sulfite sensitive.

Sulfites are mistakenly blamed for wine hangovers. Asthmatics are cautioned to refrain from all products known to have sulfites, including potatoes, broccoli, dried fruits, and bottled mineral water. All of these items have more sulfites in their standard serving size than an average glass of bottle-finished dry red wine. Sulfites are also a natural by-product of grape fermentation, so even wines made from organically grown grapes and made without sulfite addition have trace amounts of sulfites.

Biodynamic farming is natural farming at an extreme, taking into consideration phases of the moon and burying cow manure in cow horns to bring life and energy back to the soil, and then to the plant. Any king of natural farming has a tremendous positive impact on our environment.

Sutter Home Sauvignon BlancBut it takes more than that. Glass bottles are heavy. Sutter Home Family Vineyards offers a 100% recyclable “Planet Wise Pak” of 4- 187ml plastic bottles – the Sauvignon Blanc is fresh and lively. Bag in box wine, while not the best, does provide very green packaging and as the bladder pack shrinks as the wine is drawn out, there is no spoilage. Perhaps the biggest innovation has been the introduction of wine on tap. Chris Dearden, Owner/Winemaker of Dearden Wines in Napa Valley says, “From a winemakers standpoint, we love wine on tap as it provides a delicious glass of wine to get to the consumer in an extremely “green” package. There is nothing to cause TCA or other off flavors and we feel that it appeals to a broader and younger demographic which we are really trying to attract.”

by Catherine Fallis, MS

Photo credit: LOCA, Wines of Lodi