With Earth Day approaching it seems like a perfect time to plan an organic picnic at your favorite beach or park. You’ll go to the store for organic salad greens, strawberries, naturally raised meat and even eco-ice cream, but what to drink?
A couple years ago as I was researching my book The Bubbly Bar, I wanted to include a chapter on organic champagnes and sparkling wines. I had to settle for a section in the appendix because they weren’t widely available.
But it’s a whole new world as we approach Earth Day 2009. I found loads of green bubbly made from sustainable or certified organically grown grapes on wine web sites and at stores like Trader Joe’s and Fresh & Easy. Conscientious winemakers, who care about preserving the land and the health of their workers and customers, are making chemical-free wines in the US, France, Spain, South Africa and Italy. And though many items created with organic ingredients do cost more, I found wines for under $15, including one that’s just $4.99!
With the growing interest in organic foods and beverages, which was estimated to be a $23 bilion industry in 2008 according to the Organic Trade Association, it’s no surprise to see more wines made from organic grapes available. Because of U.S. regulations, wines can’t be labeled as “organic” if sulfites, a naturally occurring substance that’s used to stabilize and preserve wines, are added. USDA regulations limit wines from organically grown grapes to 100 ppm of sulfites; a typical sparkling wine will have just 70 ppm. Biodynamic grapes are grown according to the highest level of organic agriculture. Producers follow the tenets of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner which involve planting according to the cycles of the moon leads to healthier plants.
The latest major winery to move to all-organic production is Domaine Carneros by Taittinger in the Napa Valley. “All 300 acres of our vineyards are certified organic,” says Eileen Crane, winemaker and CEO of Domaine Carneros. “We’re the only sparkling wine house in all of the US that can say that.”
Crane said they started following organic growing practice in 2005 in order to qualify for the official designation in 2007. When weeds come up, they till the soil. To deal with pesky bugs that eat the grape leaves, they brought in a flock of organic chickens. And most importantly, Crane says her wines, which have an incredible balance of freshness and French toastiness, taste even better.
“It’s off the charts,” Crane says. “The vines look happy they’re vibrant and green and it feels good to walk in the vineyard.”
Here are five great sparkling wines and champagnes made from organic and sustainably raised grapes to pop the cork on this Earth Day 2009; just be sure to recycle that bottle! To learn about five more great eco-friendly wines, sign up for my free entertaining newsletter The Bubbly Girl Chronicles.
Albero Sparkling Wine
This delightful bargain wine is crafted from macabeo and airén grapes at Bodegas Iranzo in Valencia, which has been organic since 1994. It’s not super complex, but this wine has hints of citrus and green pear and is pleasant and refreshing like a Sunday afternoon party.
About $4.99 at Trader Joe’s
Makulu, the second oldest cellar in South Africa, means “big” in the Zulu language. Big is also a good description for this blend of moscato, chenin blanc and colombard grapes that’s bursting with flavors of peaches, apricots and pears. This wine, which is made from sustainably grown grapes, is very low in alcohol and comes from the Paarl Ward region of Western Cape of South Africa.
About $6 at Fresh & Easy stores and Ingersoll Wine & Spirits
Albet i Noya Cava Brut Reserva
Albet i Noya is Spain’s leading organic wine producer; this cava is made from chardonnay, xarel-lo, macabeo and parellada grapes that were grown in the Penedes region. It has a bright, crisp flavor of lemon zest and orange balanced by a nutty brioche finish.
About $18 at at Appellation Wine & Spirits
Domaine Carneros Brut
The wines from Domaine Carneros, which is owned by Taittinger, have always had a French structure and toastiness to them balanced by juciy California fruit. Since going organic back in 2005, the wines seem even more crisp and clear.
About $22 at Beverages & More
Fleury Brut Rosé Champagne
Fleury was the first champagne producer to go biodynamic back in 1989, meaning they not only abstain from chemicals and pesticides, but they feed the land and plant by moon cycles so plants are more vigorous. This rose is made from 100% pinot noir and is elegant but reveals a toasty depth too.
About $49 at K & L Wines.
Maria Hunt, the SDNN Food & Drink Editor, is the author of The Bubbly Bar: Champagne & Sparkling Wine Cocktails for Every Occasion being released in August by Clarkson Potter. She writes the champagne, cocktails and entertaining web site The Bubbly Girl.