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How important does "green" figure in your wine buying decision?

WineUnleashed Jun 10, 2008 01:40 PM

I recently attended at a San Francisco Professional Food Society networking event at Yield. Yield is a new wine bar here in San Francisco that emphasizes the “green” side of wine. Here is a description from their website:

“Yield is the first "green" wine bar in San Francisco...We are committed to supporting sustainable winemaking and agriculture, as well as family owned and operated wineries. All of the wines featured on our rotating wine list are environmentally friendly — they are made from grapes that are farmed organically and biodynamically. While some of our featured wineries even receive certification, all of them are as focused on making the best wine possible as they are on making it in the most environmentally conscious way.”

It made me wonder, how does “green” or organic factor when people buy wine? Is this just a San Francisco phenomenon? As someone who buys all organic meats and produce, organic is not a huge factor for me when it comes to wine. Many wines on the market today are organic or a product of sustainable farming, they just don't put it on the label. For me, “Is it good” comes first, then “Does it have value,” and “Does it come from a small production winemaker,” and finally, “Is it ‘green’?” I would say it is definitely on my radar, but would not sacrifice flavor for it.

What about you? How does “green” figure in your wine buying decision?

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  1. z
    zin1953 RE: WineUnleashed Jun 10, 2008 07:11 PM

    Only if I'm buying Vinho Verde . . .

    OK, a slightly more serious answer.

    While I agree with your "order of priorities" -- 1) "Is it good,” 2) “Does it have value [QPR],” 3) “Does it come from a small production winemaker,” and 4) “Is it ‘green’?” -- I have to add that #1 and #2 substantially are ahead of, and carry more weight than, #3 and #4.

    It isn't that I don't give a $#!+ if the winery is a family-owned and/or a small scale producer, or if the winery is "green," but it barely registers. The problem is that it isn't like looking at two identical pairs of running shoes, one made with child labor in __________, and the other made in America by well-paid owner-employees. The problem is that here is a (e.g.) a Napa Valley Chardonnay, and here is another Napa Valley Chardonnay (or two different Côtes-du-Rhônes, two Austrian Gruner Veltliners, Alsatian Rieslings, Douro reds or, indeed, two Vinho Verdes) , but they taste different from one another and I definitely PREFER one over the other.

    Now, coincidentally, it turns out more often than not that the wine I prefer turns out to be from a family-owned winery rather than a large négociant or one owned by a multinational corporation, but that is decidedly the third of these four criteria.

    As for "green," let me rename "green" to "biodynamic," "IPM," or some similar method of obtaining higher-quality grapes from the vineyard, and I'm even happier! But if I don't like the way it tastes, I won't consider buying it; and if it doesn't have good QPR, I'm not going to buy it . . .

    Cheers,
    Jason

    7 Replies
    1. re: zin1953
      Bill Hunt RE: zin1953 Jun 10, 2008 07:26 PM

      Vinho Verde! Oh man, I did not see that one coming, but I should have. Good call, Jason. I got a laugh, and sprayed Sonoma (AV) Chard on my laptop's keyboard. Do I send the repair bill to you? [Grin]

      Hunt

      1. re: Bill Hunt
        maria lorraine RE: Bill Hunt Jun 10, 2008 07:51 PM

        I was all ready to make a green "vegetal" crack in my own wise-ass way. Oh, I know, sad.

        1. re: maria lorraine
          z
          zin1953 RE: maria lorraine Jun 11, 2008 07:58 AM

          Yes, but California viticulture has indeed conquered the dreaded "Monterey veggies"

          1. re: zin1953
            Bill Hunt RE: zin1953 Jun 11, 2008 06:19 PM

            Do you mean the "green" Cabs from Chalone, "A-Frame?" I still have some around, and need to share it in a "counter-point" situation.

            Hunt

            1. re: Bill Hunt
              z
              zin1953 RE: Bill Hunt Jun 11, 2008 07:32 PM

              Those, but even before that, some of Mirassou's Cabernets from the early 1960s . . .

      2. re: zin1953
        t
        tmso RE: zin1953 Jun 11, 2008 12:02 AM

        >> Only if I'm buying Vinho Verde . . .

        You got something against Grüner Veltliner?

        1. re: tmso
          z
          zin1953 RE: tmso Jun 11, 2008 07:59 AM

          Awww, didn't you notice I included GV in my original post?

      3. Bill Hunt RE: WineUnleashed Jun 10, 2008 07:23 PM

        For me, it's about the taste of the wine, especailly with my food. I am not one to read all of the fine print, and do not do a spreadsheet with my food choices. Same for the wine. It's all about the taste.

        Now, if the operation is "Green," I have no problems, but would not seek these out, nor would I purchase/consume wines just because of that label. However, going back to another environment buzz-word, "Organic," I found that most of the wines just did not taste all that good, especially against similar wines from more "traditional" producers. This is not an indictment on "Organic, or "Green," but it comes down to my bottom line - taste.

        Interesting thread though,

        Hunt

        1. vvvindaloo RE: WineUnleashed Jun 10, 2008 07:27 PM

          I am not the sort of wine drinker who seeks out "organic" or "green" wines, either. However, as to your question regarding the prevalence of the green wine phenomenon, family-owned wineries making limited-production biodynamic wines are all the rage in Italy.

          1. c
            chrisinroch RE: WineUnleashed Jun 10, 2008 07:37 PM

            not at all

            1. maria lorraine RE: WineUnleashed Jun 10, 2008 07:55 PM

              Many many wineries are organic and don't ever mention it.

              Certainly, being organic or biodynamic is no guarantee of better flavor.
              Lots of bad-tasting biodynamic wines out there.

              Flavor, first. Price, second. I don't think of much else after that. I'm impressed if the wines are farmed sustainably, but don't seek that out.

              2 Replies
              1. re: maria lorraine
                Icantread RE: maria lorraine Jun 11, 2008 09:41 AM

                I was going to make this point. Actually, even in my limited scope I know of two myself. Why don't they say it? first, it's a pain going through the hoops with the government. Second, "organic" wine is still seeing by consumers as gimmick wine that focuses on being organic rather than tasting good, as was the case with the first "organic" wines.

                As to organic wines? If I'm going to spend my money on something, it better deliver. Like everyone else, I want a good wine first, organic second. Otherwise, why buy the wine? We made the same arguments in a recent thread for non-alcoholic wines. I think what we want is our favorite wines to go organic. For me it is a concern because of the level of toxins stored in grape skins, and as we saw with the brunellos, can make it to the wine itself.

                1. re: maria lorraine
                  Bill Hunt RE: maria lorraine Jun 11, 2008 06:24 PM

                  I had considered that aspect. There are probably many organic, etc., wines that I love, but just do not realize it. When I commented about the ones that I did not enjoy, these were ones that touted that aspect highly. I really did try to find something to love in them, but all, that I have sampled over the years.

                  Still, I stand by my earlier comment - it's about the taste. I respect any producer, who is "green," and makes great wine, but I will not actively seek it out, or take compromises, i.e. "green" gets no bonus points in my evaluations. Nice, when you find it, but I buy/drink for taste.

                  Hunt

                2. WineUnleashed RE: WineUnleashed Jun 10, 2008 08:41 PM

                  Jason, in response to the small producer issue (perhaps should be a separate string) ..... this is HUGE for me. From a consumer standpoint, I support my local bookstore as opposed to going to Borders to purchase books. I just like to support the small guy. Maybe it's because I own three businesses and my husband owns one as well or I just don't want to hand my money over to the "man". I just prefer to spend my money in this manner. Besides the business aspect, I believe these wines TEND to taste better. For example, anybody that has ever met Greg Brown of T Vine cellars can tell you that his passion and beliefs are in every bottle. I think most small producers are this way as well (there are many poor tasting small producers too, I have to be careful about the generalization). A great winemaker can reveal their personality and passion through their wine. BUT the wine still has to meet criteria #1 and #2.

                  Confession (sorry, I am a recovering Catholic): I have purchased wines from large producers before and probably will again. So I can’t get too uppity about it all.
                  _________
                  Maria Lorraine - Yes, many wines do not put organic, biodynamic and the like on the label but this information is being presented to me more and more when I taste wines. Again, I am wondering if this is because I am in San Francisco and they feel it might be important to me.
                  -------------

                  vvvindaloo - I am on my way to Tuscany and will be staying at small winery and will inquire about the trend.

                  Cheers,

                  Angela

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: WineUnleashed
                    a
                    anewton RE: WineUnleashed Jun 10, 2008 09:09 PM

                    A more important question to me than "is the wine organic" would be "how far has this wine traveled to reach its retail destination?" This does not mean I do not enjoy wines from Australia, New Zealand, Europe, and beyond. However, I DO like to support wines that have not been shipped from half-way around the world, which in my case means I support wines from the Pacific Northwest. There are PLENTY of great choices from BC, Washington, and Oregon, and I have even tasted some good wines from Idaho.

                    Of course, there is the question of where the bottles themselves are manufactured. I read an article recently suggesting that many of the wine bottles (if not most) are manufactured in China. (Should I be surprised?)

                    1. re: anewton
                      maria lorraine RE: anewton Jun 11, 2008 12:16 AM

                      This is a different aspect of green-ness. 42% of the energy used to produce a bottle of wine is consumed in the packaging and transportation. The statistic surprised me when I first heard it.

                      (To learn more, search for articles that cite Maurizio Cellura, an environmental physicist who speaks on the energy required to produce a bottle of wine.)

                      Even though wine -- heavy glass bottles filled with liquid -- often travel thousands of miles to me so that I can enjoy them, am I aware of this when I open them and consume them? Barely. I am aware of their origin, their place, but not of the energy consumption it took each individual bottle to arrive at my table.

                      This is the concept of “wine miles”, similar to the concept of “food miles,” the amount of fuel required to move a foodstuff from its origin to the consumer. Joan Dye Gussow, the Columbia University nutritionist, uses the example of the single organic strawberry shipped from California to New York. It requires 435 calories of fossil fuel but provides the eater with only 5 calories of nutrition.

                      "Food miles" are more important than "wine miles" (at least to me) because food grown closer to me often means tastier food.

                      But for most people, the wine that’s grown closer to them isn’t more flavorful wine. So, is a purchasing decision based on wine miles even something that can be suggested, as it has been for food? (Buy food grown within 100 miles of your home.) Buy wine grown on the continent you live? That’s a good suggestion, but it's going to take much more than that before I give up wines from France and Italy.

                      Should I care about the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that are pumped into the air during winemaking and manufacturing?

                      As to the packaging material itself – glass -- should I be more concerned that the bottle is made of new glass vs. recycled glass, or that the glass wine bottles are made in China, a fact that raises the issues of not only of fuel consumption and conservation of natural resources, but of humane treatment of factory workers? I probably should, but frankly, I never think about these things when choosing a wine.

                      And I’m personally in love with the aesthetics of the glass wine bottle, and the cork (but that is related more to the ritual of opening than the stopper), so I don’t see myself switching packaging materials to be more environmentally sensitive (and don’t even know if it would be true) when the fall-off in flavor would be too great. It all comes back to flavor for me.

                      1. re: maria lorraine
                        Bill Hunt RE: maria lorraine Jun 11, 2008 06:33 PM

                        Predicated on your first paragraph, maybe I'll just bring a few "bota-bags," when visiting the wineries... or maybe not.

                        Interesting statistic. Thanks for sharing it.

                        As for glass, I used to trek my empties to a recycling plant in Boulder, from Denver, but only when the Landcruiser was filled to the top, as it was 35 miles, each way. Now, in Phoenix, we do have glass (read wine bottle) recycling, and I fill my weekly bin with them. I only hope that they are actually being recycled, as I pay more for this "service."

                        I am also with you on the "traditions," of wine packaging, but will admit that I am warming to Stelvin (and other brands), as I seem to hit the high-end on the % of TCA contamination. Still, I love the ritual, and would hate to see it pass completely. Of course, I also loved my first PC, but have learned to move on.

                        Hunt

                      2. re: anewton
                        z
                        zin1953 RE: anewton Jun 11, 2008 07:57 AM

                        Again, this presumes that you not only like the wines produced locally, but you also PREFER them to the wines produced some distance away.

                        Australia is no problem for me -- I'm not a huge fan. But it is, for example, the rare California (or American) Chardonnay I prefer over what is produced (at a similar price point) in France. And the recent thread on Sangiovese should make it clear that I significantly prefer these wine when originating from Tuscany over those originating closer to home.

                        Maria Lorraine's point about "food miles" is an important one: buying food grown closer to home often means/results in tastier (and fresher) food.

                        Bottled water versus local, tap water? Fortunately I live in an area where the tap water is really good -- and I rarely order bottled water in restaurants (at least here in North America). But I work in a building where the tap water sucks. And in Europe, I confess to often ordering bottle water . . .

                        Wine -- again, the locally-produced wine may not be as good (either in objective quality or subjective preference) to the wine that comes from farther away . . . taste wins out.

                        Cheers,
                        Jason

                      3. re: WineUnleashed
                        moto RE: WineUnleashed Jun 11, 2008 12:59 AM

                        Angela, it's definitely something we should at least think about, if it doesn't directly affect our choices as consumers. If I learn a wine is organic or biodynamic, I'm more likely to try it, and whether I go on to more will depend on its other merits. If you live in Calif. you have a fortunate abundance of organic and biodynamic (more stringent in its way than organic) wines that are comparable taste-wise with their more conventional counterparts. Grgich in Yountville is a relatively prominent winery that's gone to organic farming. If you wish to visit a tasting room that was constructed to have minimal environmental impact, and also has excellent wine, go to Ridge in Geyserville. Generally speaking, I've found more organic/biodynamic French wines I'd go back to, unfortunately it's very difficult to successfully grow grapes in Bordeaux that way stringently, because of the prevalence of diseases and rot.

                        If you haven't already looked at the major shift in Burgundy away from chemical fertilizers and pesticides--it took a major scandal revealing adulteration with wines made elsewhere for the change to gain momentum--you will find much of interest, because the growers found the soils were getting imbalanced by overdependence on the chemicals, resulting in the wines losing their characteristic 'terroir'. cheers

                        1. re: WineUnleashed
                          z
                          zin1953 RE: WineUnleashed Jun 11, 2008 07:43 AM

                          Angela,

                          I'm not picking on you; please don't take it like that. But I do hope you'll bear with me . . . .

                          I completely understand -- and often (though, I admit, not always) support my local bookstore over Borders, Barnes & Noble, and/or Amazon. HOWEVER, when each of these four retailers offer the 32nd volume in the Harry Potter series for sale, it is the SAME exact book in all four locations that is being offered to the public.

                          This cannot be said when it comes to the wine being produced and offered for sale by the large, corporate-owned winery, the large, family-owned winery, the small, corporate-owned winery, and the the small, family-owned winery -- even if all are producing Napa Valley Cabernet.

                          There are small producers who are corporate owned (e.g.: Gary Farrell); the are large producers that are family-owned (Gallo). There are small, family-owned producers where the "winemaker's personality and passion" can shine through, and small, corporate-owned wineries where the "winemaker's personality and passion" can shine through . . . and how big is "small," anyway?

                          Ridge Vineyards is a corporate-owned winery when the winemaker's passion and personality (Paul Draper) shines through -- so much so that people frequently speak of "Draper Perfume."

                          So, too, is Beringer -- at least on the "high-end" side of things: "winemaster" Ed Sbragia has been there since 1976, and his "day-to-day" winemaker, Laurie Hook, has been there since 1986 -- continuity is what it's all about. And Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet remains one of the highest-rated, most sought-after Cabs from the Napa Valley (much like what Beaulieu Vineyards Private Reserve USED to be).

                          My point, here, Angela is that nothing is so simple as to be cut-and-dried, black-and-white. There are certain, specific producers that -- for one reason or another -- I might intentionally avoid (usually due to politics), but there are great wines (as well as poor ones) being made by wineries of every size, and every type of ownership . . .

                          Cheers,
                          Jason

                          1. re: zin1953
                            WineUnleashed RE: zin1953 Jun 11, 2008 08:23 AM

                            Jason,

                            Not to worry... it's just a discussion.... I think we are in agreement. I just have a tendency to support the small guy but fully admit to breaking that. It is not exactly black and white.... I like grey too!

                            cheers,
                            Angela

                        2. s
                          SteveG RE: WineUnleashed Jun 11, 2008 05:43 PM

                          I want to chime in with some comments to utterly confuse what defines sustainable and green

                          1) sustainable--what does this mean? Grape vines live a very long time unless they're completely abused. I suppose you could look at sustainability from a soil quality perspective, in which case runoff control (read drainage pipes buried underground with many catchment basins throughout a hillside vineyard) is important. So is cover cropping, which builds up soil nutrients and provides habitat for birds and other critters.
                          However, a healthy cover crop that prevents erosion and builds up the soil is in competition with the vines for water, dictating that they be irrigated. The choice is to mow and preserve the cover crop, or to disk the cover crop in, which reduces the need to irrigate but increases erosion. Water use in some areas of california from wells is sustainable, because we get so much winter rain and the geology holds it that the water table doesn't drop. Other areas of california with different geology don't hold water the same way, so well water use may not be sustainable. In concentrated growing areas (like the floor of Napa Valley), there are so many vineyards that no matter what the underlying geology is, water from wells is not sustainable. Sustainable has nothing to do with organic or natural as far as I can think from my experience growing up on a working vineyard.

                          2) green, organic, etc. Food for thought: to go organic, my dad would use much more sulfer alone to control powdery mildew than if he uses a little bit of fungicide combined with a moderate amount of sulfer. He would also need to spray more often, which means burning more fuel driving the tractor around. Sulfer also makes plants prone to sunburn at high temperatures, which happened in many vineyards in 2005; organic vineyards were probably more prone to the sun damage that year and the resultant drop in quality at specific vineyards due to canopy management and spray schedule.

                          Another green aspect that's never discussed: my dad lives on the same property as the vineyard and manages it himself; there is no commuting. My brother works for a vineyard management company and visits multiple vineyards each day, spread around the valley. He burns something like $50-100 of fuel each day just to get to the sites, before doing any actual work to grow the grapes.

                          Lastly, when my mom makes deliveries to restaurants and shops in the bay area, it's typically a couple cases here, a couple cases there. How much gas per case does she burn compared to when we ship a half pallet of wine to Nebraska, most of which goes straight to one store? Economies of scale and method of transportation are much more important than proximity.

                          Recycled glass: some wineries use it, others don't. Most recycled glass is actually just bottles that have been cleaned inside and out; I was once working the bottling line at a neighbor's winery and we found bits of dried paper inside the bottles, indicating they hadn't been washed well, which is a nightmare from a quality control perspective! He doesn't used recycled glass any more.

                          1. f
                            fussycouple RE: WineUnleashed Jun 15, 2008 09:31 AM

                            I have discovered that if I have two grower produced wines from most anywhere in Europe and one of them is biodynamic that I often (not always, but definitely a plurality) actually prefer the biodynamic wine when it comes to grading the intangibles.

                            I realize that this is a bit vague, but it is encouraging me to try more of the same as time goes on.

                            If I can choose between two wines that I like equally, of the same varietal and the same price, I'll pick the organic one, but only then. Organic labeled wines don't seem that have that bit of extra "something" I find in more of the biodynamic ones.

                            If I can choose between two wines that I like nearly equally, of the same varietal and both within my narrow QPR, I'll take the small producer over the big corporation *just because*.

                            How green am I? Well I drive a big american gas guzzling 8-cylinder Buick. But I buy 90% of my meat from local farmers who personally take their animals to the slaughterhouse. I buy 80% of my plant-food from local farmers (local is my county or a county that touches my county) over 9 months of the year.

                            I got driven to this extent because food was *better* when I grew up than it is now, and most of the reason is agribusiness. CAFOs are evil because they have ruined my ability to eat non-organic meat (allergies to the antibiotics now). My politics has moved to embrace my lack of ability to eat the meat, rather than the other way around, which surprises me periodically.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: fussycouple
                              Strawman RE: fussycouple Jun 15, 2008 04:06 PM

                              I honestly couldn't care less if it's organic or if someone chants over a cowhorn full of manure.

                              Taste.

                              Period.

                              1. re: Strawman
                                Condiment Queen RE: Strawman Jun 16, 2008 02:15 PM

                                I am laughing my ass off....for one, you are brilliant in your post and orange is a good color on you!

                            2. s
                              StephP RE: WineUnleashed Jun 16, 2008 06:30 PM

                              it doesn't factor in my buying decision, but i have more respect for wineries that make wine or farm sustainably. Organic grapegrowing falls in the same category for me.

                              despite being environmentally friendly, i'm less interested in biodynamic practices since the certification seems slightly sales driven (selling products to farmers, rather than the consumer).

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