It's not news that many people are now aware of the possible effects of pesticides, herbicides, growth hormones, and antibiotics in our food today. If you've ever read anything by Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, you know the reengineering that's taken place within our food systems. But now some believe that those same chemicals used in grape growing are finding their way into wines. In the Prosecco region, many people in the area suffering from asthma, increased rates of cancer, Parkinson's, and auto-immune diseases are blaming it on increased use of pesticides.
That's one of the many reasons here at Wild Olive we decided to convert our entire wine list to wines either certified sustainable, organic, or biodynamic to match our dedication to Slow Food. We achieved this goal in 2016.
Strictly from a sensory experience, we came to the realization that wines made naturally are more exciting to drink and have variations from vintage to vintage that tell a story. For example, a warmer vintage may produce a wine that is riper with more fruit but also tends to be softer and lower in acidity. That said, a wine produced in a cooler vintage tends to be nervy with more acidity, less fruit, and more earthy components. To me, that's what makes natural wines more interesting. Wines produced in this way are a snapshot of a particular year.
On the contrary, we previously served wines on our list that tasted the same every year. Many of our customers loved the consistency of these wines not realizing the reason they were so consistent was due to the manipulation that takes place in the cellar. Natural winemaking focuses, not on the cellar, but on the vineyard with the goal of growing the best possible grapes and then allowing them to express themselves in the best way possible. This philosophy is very similar to Wild Olive Chef Jacques Larson's philosophy of finding the best possible ingredients and then simply not messing them up. He believes that the simpler the preparation the more difficult the execution of a dish can be because there is no room for error. The same can be said for grapes and wine produced in a natural way.
But let me back up. The term Slow Wine may be confusing but it's as simple as wine made as naturally as possible. Sustainable winemaking tends to emphasize the energy usage in the winery in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while leaving the option of using pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides as a last resort. Organic wine, on the other hand, is made without chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides but organic fertilizer can be brought into the vineyard and applied as needed. Biodynamic winemaking takes this a step further. Biodynamics looks at the vineyard as a self contained ecosystem where everything used in the viticultural process is created or grown on premise. Biodynamic preparations that are produced at the winery are used to enhance the microbiology of the vineyard soil and vegetation. In addition, various stages of the winemaking process, such as harvest, fermentation, racking, and bottling are performed based on the cycles of the moon. That may sound funny, but when you think about it, it makes sense strictly from a physical standpoint that the gravitational pull from the moon will affect wine just as it does the tides.
Lastly, a commitment to biodynamics requires a grape grower to be much more in tune with what is going on in the vineyard to be able to react to any stresses the vines experience.
"Slow wine, organic, and biodynamic farming practices — no matter how you view the 'movement' no matter what country you're talking about — the philosophy of taking care of the Earth which we share is of the utmost importance to everyone involved," says David McCarus, owner of McCarus Beverage Company of Slow Wine. McCarus' company doesn't require that the wines he sells be certified organic or biodynamic, but he does insist that the overall approach to his producer's products be wine that represents grapes grown with the strictest respect for the earth.
"This philosophy is not just that but an ideology that expands beyond one industry, the wine industry," says McCarus. "For one to choose the quantity of their yield over the quality of their product and the respect for life on a shared planet not only leads to an inferior product but a selfishness that should be considered. As the Japanese farmer and philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka, author of the celebrated The One-Straw Revolution writes, 'Human beings do wrong with their meddlings, leave damage which cannot be undone, and then when unfavorable results accumulate, they react with all their might to repair it.'"
With that in mind, one of the winemakers we at Wild Olive are obsessed with is Elizabetta Foradori. From Trentino, Italy, Foradori grew up on a vineyard that has been her family since the 1920s. Her father took over the winery but died suddenly at the age of 38. As an only child, Elizabetta was sent to enology school to study viticulture and took over the business after graduation. Her wines won acclaim in the 1990s, but she didn't feel fulfilled as a winemaker. She came to what she calls a, "capacious realization" that most Italian wines produced since WWII were made with the sole goal of productivity. These wines were made to be ready to drink using chemistry and contamination and her epiphany led her to focus on recuperating the biodiversity of her vineyards.
Foradori made the conversion to biodynamics in 2002 and her wines and vineyard have seen profound improvements ever since. Where her previous success was in the cellar, her current success is in the vineyard. "Agricultural work leads your hand into the earth, which was always a great strength," she says. When the vineyards changed, the wines changed. With biodynamics, she believes, you observe and listen to the earth and can acquire all the information you need but you have to be ready with, "your feet on the ground and a good dose of humility."
Modern agriculture is the application of an industrial protocol to the earth which is connected with the profit of the industry through chemistry and pesticides. After two generations, the farmer is now is a prisoner of the industry. Wine made naturally is more vibrant because it carries the soul and taste of the earth. As Foradori says, "The purpose of agriculture is to feed man and let him feel good, not only physically but also spiritually." If wine has positive energy then it will bring this energy into your body. Slow Wine is the idea that grapes and animals in the vineyards should be able to grow in a natural environment. A farmer's primary commitment should be maintaining the productivity of the earth and the protection of the whole of creation. And just as Foradori says, we agree that wines produced in this manner will naturally pair well with food unlike wines produced using chemistry which may be free from flaws but have no soul, no personality, and no story to tell.