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Earth-Friendly Imbibing

Sharing your holiday merry with the planet



As we gather for our various seasonal holidays, many ofus will likely bring a bottle of wine or Champagne to share. Thiscan lead eco-folks to ask, "Are there tasty wines that are alsoearth-friendly? And how do we sort out the choices?"

Luckily, I can help. One of the benefits of my years ofeco-writing is that I've been forced—yes, forced I tellyou—to sample our local organic food and wine. Oh, how Isuffer.

Often, the first question is if it really even matters to buy aneco-wine. Absolutely. As with food, growing wine grapesecologically reduces the toxics in both our environment and ourglass. According to David Steinman, author of Diet for aPoisoned Planet, mainstream wine "has too many pesticides toqualify as a top-quality product." Pesticide residues have beenfound in wines at high concentrations, and Steinman observes thatwine drinkers report fewer headaches after going organic. (Ofcourse, moderation still counts.)

Folks also often wonder whether quality eco-friendly winesexist. The answer is an emphatic yes. In fact, winemakers oftenseek ecologically grown grapes for their flavor. Veronique Raskinof the Organic Wine Company, a Marin importer, says, "For me, withorganic wine there is a clear difference. You feel the essence ofthe wine, the terroir. You have a much stronger experience of thecountry and the winemaker with organic wines than you do with otherwines."

OK, so, filled with hope, we're now staring at a store shelf ora menu. How to choose? Understanding some key words can help. Forinstance, what's the difference between "organically grown" and"organic" wines? Both are made with organically grown grapes. Inaddition, "organic wines" are produced according to organicwinemaking standards established by each country.

In a controversial choice, U.S. organic wines aren't permittedto use the pure sulfur dioxide preservative allowedinternationally. Therefore, these wines can be good for folksseeking to avoid added sulfites, but can sometimes have a shortershelf life; ask producers for their storage timing recommendations.I've found enjoyable wines in both categories.

Another delightful option for eco-consumers is biodynamic wine,which often offers richly dimensional flavors. Growing standardsare even higher than for organic, and processing allows modestamounts of sulfur dioxide.

Two eco-wine identifiers to treat with more caution are"sustainable" and "natural," because neither has a legal definitionor regulation. Sometimes such wines are made with less toxicgrowing or processing practices, but the specifics and commitmentvary by producer.

So what are some of my favorite local eco-wines? My first choicefor holiday bubbly is Jeriko Estate's award-winning, organicallygrown sparkling wine, one of the few from California. Handcraftedand estate-grown, it tastes charmingly subtle and

I've also enjoyed the luscious and complex organically grownwines of Rutherford's Frog's Leap Winery, produced in their 100percent solar-operated facility.

Another favorite of mine is Napa's Robert Sinskey Vineyards.Using estate-sourced organically grown grapes, their winemaking is,they say, "driven by the fruit, with minimal manipulation." Behindthe scenes of their beautifully dramatic tasting room, solar powerhelps run their winery, biodiesel powers their trucks and tractors,and sheep mow their cover crops.

Folks wanting a delicious natural wine, with no manipulation oradditives including sulfites, can sample Coturri Winery'sfull-bodied organically grown selections. All are traditionallyhandcrafted in small lots and bottled by hand in Glen

These and other luscious eco-wines are available in local storesor by mail order. Or enjoy a holiday tasting room visit, onebenefit of our proximity to wine country.

Reflecting on his journey, vintner Robert Sinskey says, "I usedto think that a clean, manicured vineyard was a thing of beauty,but now I look at a vineyard with a cover crop, a cluster of weeds,an occasional imperfect vine, a gopher hole here and there, insectsbuzzing, birds flying as signs of real beauty, health, even luxury.What's most satisfying is that I can walk through the vineyardswith my two girls and not be concerned about the grapes they put intheir mouth."

Ditto for our holiday cheer.

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