Where does Communion wine come from? Part 4 of 4

Part IV: What kind of wines to look for

As organic produce has grown in importance as consumers more and more demand that food come from environmentally sustainable sources, “organic” wine has become a growing presence on store shelves. This is almost always wine made from organic grapes, which is different from USDA certified organic wine. Among other things, USDA certified organic wine requires the use of certified organic yeast and no added sulfur (a common preservative) during bottling. 

Organic does not necessarily mean that the grapes are produced in an environmentally sustainable manner, nor does it at all reflect on the treatment of vineyard workers. While organic viniculture forbids the use of artificial herbicides and pesticides, it does permit the use of natural ones such as copper sulfate. In large doses copper — permitted under organic regulations — is toxic and negatively impacts both soil health and the local environment.

Biodynamic wines have been growing in popularity and visibility in recent years. Biodynamic wines are similar to organic ones in that they eschew artificial pesticides in favor of organic treatments, but go even further by organizing the entire management of the vineyard to cycles of the moon. 

Based on the writings of early 20th century German philosopher Rudolph Steiner, biodynamics has been criticized by many as new-aged spirituality with no basis in fact. However, there is a growing body of evidence that biodynamic wines are significantly different from conventional and organic viticulture. Although still a niche movement, biodynamics is now practiced in the vineyards of some of the greatest wines in the world, including those of Domaine Romanee-Conti. 

Both of the above are different from natural wines. Most natural wines come from organically or biodynamically grown grapes, but natural refers to the winemaking process. Natural wines receive very little intervention in the cellar; fermentation is started by native yeasts and sulfur is usually not added until the wine is bottled, and then only in small amounts. The result is some of the most unique wines being made today.

As a general rule, smaller is usually better when it comes to wine producers. Smaller producers are usually individually or family owned and operated. They often have a more direct connection with the vineyards, even if they do not directly own or manage the vineyard themselves. Most of the more quality-oriented producers are very conscious of soil and vineyard health and often follow organic or biodynamic practices even if they are not certified. 

Some of the most interesting, high quality and affordable wines are coming from small producers who are part of what has been called the New California movement. Matthaisson’s 1-liter Tendu Red and White blends, Broc Cellars Love Red, White, and Rose are a few examples. The easiest way to find good, sustainably sourced wines is to ask for recommendations from a good local wine store.

Wine store image: flickr/mike_miley/ CC by-SA 2.0