Most of us love a glass of good wine with our dinner. There’s nothing better than unwinding at the end of the day with a nice red, white, or rose. However, how often do you spend time thinking about whether or not your favorite vino is eco-friendly?
When you think of environmentally-friendly wines, you might believe they would be missing something in terms of taste. Surely if they’re good for the environment, they can’t be as pleasing to the palate as what you’re used to, right? Well, a new study has proved that theory wrong.
Based on the standard 100-point scale, a new UCLA study has shown that eco-friendly wines score around 4.1 points higher on average than their traditionally-made counterparts. The fascinating conclusion that can be drawn from this finding is that biodynamic and organic farming has a small, but positive effect on wine quality.
The study focused on purely Californian wines, however the UCLA research team expected the results to apply across the board, as 90 percent of the wine produced in the US comes from California.
Interestingly, the initial findings on a study focusing on wine from France also show very similar results. So it’s very possible to conclude that eco-friendly wines taste better in general than non-certified ones.
The Study Details
The study looked at eco-friendly wines that included those made from grapes from biodynamic and organic farms, however it didn’t focus on purely organic wine in the 74,000-bottle study.
One of the authors of the study, UCLA environmental economist and UCLA Anderson School of Management professor, Magali Delmas notes that consumers had been shying away from eco-certified wines due to their former reputation for souring quickly. However, the study can attest to the fact that these wines, in fact, taste better to many wine connoisseurs’ palates.
It’s hoped that this new research will inspire wineries to become more environmentally aware, as well as encouraging vintners to display their eco-certifications more boldly.
Only one percent of the wines studied had eco-certification, and it’s interesting to note that as many as two thirds of eco-certified wineries in California don’t showcase the seals on their bottles, as the consumer generally perceives eco-friendly to mean lower quality.
However, it’s now becoming a more common thought that eco-friendly wines are better quality as they have a purer taste that isn’t changed by the use of chemicals and pesticides. The actual soil the vines are grown in is of an improved and natural composition, which could also contribute to the better taste.
Interestingly, the study showed that eco-certified red wines, such as Merlots, and Chiantis, scored higher than whites. However, this could have been due to the smaller sample size of white wines.
What is Eco-Friendly Wine?
Now that you know that eco-friendly wines do taste as good or better as traditional wines, at least according to this study, let’s delve into what exactly makes up an environmental-friendly wine.
While not yet regulated, eco-friendly wine, or sustainable wine, is loosely defined as wine that is grown in an ecologically and economically responsible way, with an awareness of pesticide and preservative use. Through following specific organic farming practices, without the use of synthetic materials and chemicals, this natural process impacts the environment in the most positive of ways.
Eco-friendly wines are the product of seasonal changes in their regions, and therefore, tend not to have that “formula” taste that regular wines have.
Now there are certain labels you’ll see on bottles of eco-friendly wines. Here are some of them that you may come across, along with their definitions. Keep in mind that the United States government regulates “organic” foods and beverages, but biodynamic and sustainable have no legal definitions yet.
No Sulfites Added
Sulfites are widely used in wine-making and in other food industries as a preservative to kill bacteria. Sulfites are added to most wines to extend their shelf life and to act as an antibacterial preservative; however those wines are not organic. They are also used to prevent discoloration and browning in foods and beverages.
While only a small percentage of the population is allergic to sulfites, those that are may develop allergic reactions that consists of cramps, hives, rashes, or red, blotchy skin. Commonly, more sulfites are added to white wines rather than red.
Sulfites appear naturally in many fermented foods. Winemakers use sulfates to prevent the oxidation process that would spoil wine. Wine that is 100 percent organic does not have sulfites added, but it may contain sulfites that occurred naturally.
Organic wines are grown only with care, sunlight, and water. There are no antibiotics, chemical fertilizers, artificial ingredients, synthetic hormones, preservatives, or fungicides involved at all. In addition to this, organic wines are never genetically engineered or irradiated.
Wines can be created from certified organically-grown grapes, all the while avoiding additives or synthetic pesticides. On the other hand, “organic” wines are also created using organically grown grapes. But they are also contain no added sulfites, though sulfites occurring naturally may still exist.
Organic wines must contain less than five percent nonorganic ingredients, or none at all to hold the label “100 percent organic.”
When you buy a wine with an “organic grapes” label, this means that your drink is made only from grapes that have been grown without the use of fungicides, insect repellents, weed killers, and chemical fertilizers.
Wines that are labeled as being made with organically grown grapes may contain sulfites, however, actual organic wines have far stricter requirements, and no added sulfites are permitted.
You’re probably rightly skeptical of foods that are labelled as “natural,” as the term has no actual legal meaning. When it’s applied to wine, it tends to mean that as little as possible has been added or removed during the wine-making process. For example, a “natural” wine, will usually not contain added yeast, sugar, large amounts of oak, or acid. It probably won’t be filtered either.
Most natural wines are not filtered and contain low amounts of sulphur, if any. They are often produced in low quantities with organic, hand-picked grapes. They are typically made with no added sugars, no acidity adjustments, and without reverse osmosis.
If you want the most eco-friendly wine, ensure that it’s biodynamic. This refers to the holistic way in which an entire ecosystem is created through the growing of grapes. Biodynamic farmers will not even use natural weed killers or pesticides, opting to encourage the natural wildlife and plants, to aid with the wine-making process.
This could mean anything from encouraging natural predators like spiders and bugs to control flies, and to using animal manure as a fertilizer. The whole process is based on the 1924 agricultural philosophies established by Rudolf Steiner.
The process involves viewing the farm as a living being, maintaining biodiversity, and emphasizing the health of the soil. There are also other aspects to consider, such as the natural rhythms of the earth, lunar cycles, and even astrology.
Biodynamic farming is not the easiest of jobs; however, as the study proves, it’s well worth it for the results.
Nowadays, many environmentally-aware wineries are ditching the heavy glass bottles, and using lighter models instead. Light glass bottles means reduced energy costs and pollution during shipping.
Also, they’re shipping their goods in recycled packaging, with some vineyards opting to package their products in cardboard cartons, rather than using any glass at all. Labels are also going eco-friendly, with some made out of recycled materials, and the labeling is printed with water soluble inks.
Some winemakers are using lightweight pouches as a replacement of heavy glass bottles or even big wine-in-the-box packaging. These pouches both essentially eliminate the threat of oxidation to the wine, and the possibility of cork contamination.
They utilize a nozzle system that is designed to keep the product’s integrity in tact and fresh for upwards of one month or more after opening. Again, these lighter-weight packaging options means less energy and pollution when shipping to the consumer market.
These packaging options help keep the multitudes of glass bottles from filling up landfills.
Stored in Eco-Friendly Caves
Eliminating the need for costly and energy-draining refrigeration, some winemakers are storing their wine barrels in underground caves that maintain a natural temperature of around 61 degrees Fahrenheit. These caves reduce wine loss from evaporation, and are at near perfect humidity.
Sustainable Wine Trends
Many wineries and liquor stores are beginning to separate eco-friendly wines to make it easier for the consumer searching for sustainable wines. Some restaurants are beginning to make notations on their wine menus to indicate which of their wine selections are eco-friendly.
Final Sips (i.e. Thoughts)
The next time you’re thinking about opening a nice bottle of Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio, why not try an eco-friendly version? As the study concludes, the quality of eco-certified wines is up there with regular wines, and in many cases, is even better. Add this to the fact that eco-wines are on the whole cheaper than their traditional counterparts, and there’s a number of reasons to try them. Cheers!
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