This is part of a series called Wine Words, a glossary in the works that breaks down the barrier between those in the wine know and those who have no idea what the hell everyone's talking about. A new word posts once a week, covering everything from a grape name or region, to a winemaking or tasting term.
Sustainable (adj.) Vineyard Term
I use the term sustainable quite often, especially in the quick reference at the top of the post for each wine, as in Vines: Sustainable. It's a broad term that can be applied to vineyards farmed organically but that are not certified, to any and all vineyards farmed with any number of herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers and anything else modern science has deemed "good for business." 'Sustainable' can be a mere marketing term, like 'all natural' on a food product label, which doesn't mean what you likely think it means. It's just a word. Then again, sustainable can be honestly applied to those who are simply not certified organic - certification is expensive - but who make every effort to raise their grapes without the use of agrochemicals. In France, the term lutte raisoneé translates as 'reasoned struggle' and means that only in dire situations are non-organic methods implemented in the vineyards. It's not entirely unreasonable. If your livelihood is dependent on the harvest and your yield is going to be significantly adversely effected, then maybe you owe it to your family to spray a little fungicide on that creeping mildew. It's a moral dilemma, for sure.
I know what you're thinking, Great, thanks a lot for the buzz kill and added confusion.
Sorry about that. Now, I will empower you.
Ask questions about the wine and its region. How big is the production? If it's mammoth, there's a good chance the wine is not being grown organically. If it's made in a super high-tech winery, science might be a priority over nature. Get to know the producer, understand their philosophies and motivations. There's a little detective work involved and you have to learn to wade through the bullshit to get to the golden kernels, but it's worth it. Because when we talk about Drinking Better, we're talking about big picture authenticity and integrity, in addition to well-made wine. The two pretty much go hand in hand.
And now you're thinking, Okay, whatever, I'm not going winery door to winery door to ask what their vineyard practices are. No, you're not. But you can find a lot of information online and learn to recognize importers who have reputations for working with conscientious producers (look for 'imported by' on the back label). Better yet, establish relationships with those in the know, people you can trust because it's their passion to know these things, like your local wine store, wine writers, or your favorite wine blogger, ahem... Over time, you'll pick up on the lingo and begin to understand the difference environmentally, economically and frankly, enjoyability. With all those adverbs in your pocket, you can't go wrong.
Wondering if that bottle you picked up yesterday is a good kind of sustainable? Shoot me an email. If I don't know, I can probably find out.
P.S. If you bought it from the supermarket or CVS, it's probably not.