April 22, 2019
This Earth Day, we’re looking at wines that will leave you feeling good about every sip. While you are enjoying a sip of wine with your next restaurant meal, these wine growers and winemakers are making a real contributions to the health of the soil that they are working and making sustainable choices in the winemaking process.
You’ve probably heard of organic food – so the extension to organic wine is an easy jump. The goal with organic is to make the wines be a true representation of the place, the “terroir”, and the season. Pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers in the growing of the grapes and the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the production of the wine are forbidden to ensure the fertility of the soil. The farmer must employ best practices for environmental sustainability for the health of the vines and the soil while considering the responsible usage of water. In order to receive the designation of organic (or biodynamic), the wines must have received third party certification. With organic, at least 95% of the ingredients of each and every bottle must be certified organic.
Biodynamic wines are farmed according to the cycle of the earth and in alignment with the earth, the solar system and the universe. Pruning, planting, harvesting tasks must be completed according to the biodynamic calendar. For someone with no experience of farming, the hint of fairy dust that makes biodynamic remarkable can seem very eerie. Under this model, all aspects from the planting to the harvest must consider the connections of living things, the true expression of the land, and seeks to leave the land in better shape than it was found. On Earth Day, that seems like a fabulous reason to try wines made in this way.
Okanagan Crush Pad is a great example of a winery that is making great strides into organic winemaking. Proprietors Steve Lornie and Christine Coletta goal is to make pure, terroir-driven wines from organic grapes using native yeast fermentation. Their home vineyard, Switchback Vineyard, in Summerland is now certified organic. The site of the winery, the vineyard is open for the public to experience an organic vineyard across the seasons. It is not unusual to see sheep and ducks grazing between the rows and contributing to the vineyard ecosystem. It’s a unique insight into organic growing that is worth a visit.
Through their unique international connections, Steve and Christine brought international winemaking experts Pedro Parra (Chile) and Alberto Antonini (Italy) to help map the plan for planting and harvesting organically on their Garnet Valley property. The 320-acre property now includes 40 acres of organic vines, 8 acres of organic field crops and a herd of sheep, guarded by two Great Pyrenees dogs. Duncan Billing, vineyard manager, is committed to organic viticulture. The health of the soil ensures that the vines are more resilient, he says, and ensures that they are more prepared to handle every eventuality that the seasons bring. With weather changing, it’s a great way to enhance the productivity of the vineyards in the long term.
Biodynamic winemaking requires committing to creating a self-sustaining eco-system within the vineyard that considers the overall health of the terroir. A great example of this is Summerhill Winery, a leader in biodynamic wines in our province. You may know them for their Pyramid Cellar – which aligns to the stars and enhances sacred geometry. They use natural materials, soils, and composts to sustain the vineyard and a range of animals from ducks to sheep live on the soil and fertilize it, creating a rich, fertile environment for the vines to grow in.
Having been organic for many years, Summerhill team’s recent focus has been on enhancing the vineyard program to enable biodynamic production. Brothers Gabe and Ezra Cipes, sons of founder Stephen Cipes, are committed to biodynamic winemaking - adding no yeast or nutrient and no fermentation or processing aids of any kind. With their viticulture and wine growing, they create the right environment for the juice to turn naturally to wine, and they closely monitor the process. In the 2017 vintage, they clarified their Riesling and Gruner Vetliner’s with bentonite (a clay from volcanic ash used as a filter and known for detoxification properties) and vinified them as single estate varietal wines. They applied for and received Demeter biodynamic certification.
Ezra, Gabe, Steve and Christine are all committed to growing grapes that are a true reflection of their place in the world. They believe in preserving their land for future generations by leaving the earth replenished and stronger than they found it. On Earth Day, take a moment to choose your dishes and your wines because of the footprint they don’t leave on our planet.
If you are in the Okanagan this spring, visit Summerhill in Kelowna and Okanagan Crush Pad in Summerland.