Admit it, you feel pretty cool picking up that organic spring mix from Whole Foods, tucking it lovingly into your canvas shopping tote and zipping it home in your hybrid. Organic — no matter what WalMart has done or how meaningless an organic label may actually be — is indisputably hip. The very word conjures images of perfect produce, flourishing rainforests, and fuzzy pink bunny rabbits. But not so for wine.
No, organic wine gets a bad rap. In the eighties, at the beginning of the organic movement in North America (and the beginning of some horrible fashion ideas, I might add), organic wines were characterized by poor shelf-life and poor quality. But today (ironically, some of those hideous fashion trends have returned), thanks to the miracle of science, wineries have figured out how to produce and preserve organic wines to rival the best of the conventional.
Unfortunately, the bad reputation is so sticky that many organic wine producers chose not to label their bottles as such. While shoppers are willing to pay twice as much for that spring mix once it gets slapped with an organic label, there is still a great deal of consumer stigma surrounding organic wine.
Even within the industry, the inertia is to make wines of tremendous quality, with little regard for sustainability. I’m facing some of these challenges myself: Is it worth the extra charge to find recycled bottles for Je Suis; to have labels specially printed on bamboo paper with soy ink? How am I to know if my grapes were raised organically, biodynamically or otherwise if the vineyard does not advertise it? And which really is better for the environment, natural cork or screw caps?
It’s clear to me that developing a green wine brand takes extra time and extra money. And at the end of the day, sustainability may be the first thing to strike from the marketing plan. If eco-sensitive doesn’t equal increased sales, it’s easy to see why things have been slow to change.
Luckily, the industry is changing and adopting green practices. A few California wineries are even using 100% solar power. It may be slow going, but I hope that some day soon we won’t have to choose between great wine and the environment. I hope that wineries won’t need to use organic labels at all, because every single vineyard will employ sustainable farming practices, no matter what they call them. Then we can all think of fuzzy pink bunnies as we tuck our bottles of wine into our canvas shopping totes and zip home in our hybrids.