Woodrow: The focus of sustainable agriculture is to ensure that the processes done in the fields/vineyards are done in a way that minimizes their impact to the environment and preserves the farm/vineyard for future generations. Most practices would be considered organic in that only natural fertilizers and things are used, however, in sustainable agriculture if things go really wrong, artificial chemicals can be used. There are several organizations that certify sustainable practices, such as LIVE in Oregon.
Organic agriculture only uses natural compounds for fertilizer and for controlling disease and pests. To stay organic, they cannot resort to artificial means, even if it means losing the crop. The USDA certifies organic in the US. There are 2 types of organic wine – full organic and wine made with organic grapes. Full organic wine also looks at what goes on in the winery and makes sure that only organic (well, pretty much) things are added to the wine. Made from organic grapes means that the grapes were grown organically, but there were some none organic things added in the winery. The most prevalent non-organic thing added in the winery is sulfites to preserve the wine.
What are some of the techniques used by wineries to lessen their environmental impact?
Woodrow: Most are looking at the farming process to make sure that they are not overloading something and causing harm. (Too much fertilizer causes algae blooms in streams, which suck out the oxygen and kill the fish). They are also looking at controlling run off from the fields and trying to recycle their water as much as possible. Others are looking at adding solar panels to provide the electricity needed to run the winery. Another thing a lot of wineries are doing is building their winery so that the wine flows from one step to the other using gravity instead of pumps. The added benefit of this (besides less electricity) is that many people feel that flavors and complexity in wine comes from large compounds in the wine. The more mechanical manipulation (pumping) the more these compounds break down, resulting in less tasty wine.
Is sustainable wine more prevalent in some regions than others? Is this a growing trend in wine production?
Woodrow: Europe is far ahead of the US in this field. A lot of their vineyards have been in families for centuries, so they naturally do things that granddad did and look at what they are doing to make sure that their grandkids have a vineyard. The climate has a lot of influence too.
Chile has a nice dry, protected country. They are doing a lot of organic growing there, since there aren’t a lot of problems to deal with. North Carolina is horrible for growing grapes. The humidity causes rot easily. Unfortunately, the only way to combat this most times is through chemicals. Overall, the trend is toward less chemicals and more careful tending to the vines. I actually had a representative from a huge CA producer tell me that they are converting everything to sustainable and that it’s actually saving them money. Instead of blindly irrigating and spraying, closer management can deliver only what is needed, where it is needed to make sure there in no waste.
Are many North Carolina wineries producing sustainable and organic wines?Woodrow: No. McRichie and RagApple Lassie are the only two sustainable wineries that I know of. The humidity makes rot a real issue that tends to need big guns to fight.
How does your store differ from many other stores in our area?
Woodrow: I think what really sets Vin Master apart is that I want to help people figure out what they like. Then I’ll try to help them find wines to match their tastes. I think a lot of other places focus on wines that someone else (Robert Parker, Wine Spectator) liked and then try to sell you on why you would like it too. Different approach.
(Directly across from Atherton Market, tucked between Rudino’s and the light rail)