In the past few decades or so, as the effects of global warming/climate change started to become more apparent, many wineries, realizing that their vines were being directly impacted by the changes in the environment, started implementing more responsible farming.
Along the same time, several organizations were created to help farmers make the transition to more earth-friendly practices as well as create certification programs to help consumers understand which wineries were undertaking the hard work to make a difference.
Today, there are dozens of organizations worldwide that have been established to certify that wineries are producing wines that are less impactful on the planet. While most people likely understand the concept of “organic wine”, fewer, perhaps could explain the concept of “sustainable wines.”
Sustainability not only addresses what products are used in the production of wine, but it also considers how much is used, particularly in the case of water, a resource of increasing scarcity, particularly in California. Perhaps of equal importance, sustainability also considers the human aspect of grape/wine production–how employees are treated and compensated.
One of the leaders in the sustainability field in the U.S. is Sustainability In Practice (SIP) Certified, a certification organization in California. Simply (very simply) put, SIP Certified concentrates on the “Three P’s of Sustainability: People, Planet, Prosperity.” The goal is to ensure that both the environment and the employees are protected and supported while understanding the need for wineries to turn a profit.
Over the next couple of weeks, I will dive a bit deeper into sustainability and SIP Certified wines while tasting through some wines made under the organization’s strict requirements. Here are the first few wines that I have tried.
2016 Ancient Peaks Zinfandel, Santa Margarita Ranch AVA, Paso Robles, CA: Retail $20. 100% Zinfandel. Quite rich on the palate with intense fruit (Blackberry, raspberry, plum), spice (clove, black pepper), and a touch of mocha. The palate is equally rich, with loads of juicy fruit, cardamom, a splash of earth, and just a hint of heat (15.5% ABV). It is clear from the start that this is a big boy, a fruity, in-your-face (but short of a “bomb”) kind of Zin. It is not my preferred style of wine, but when done well (as this one is), it certainly has its place. Very Good to Excellent. 89-91 Points.
2016 Fossil Point Pinot Noir, Edna Valley, CA: Retail $20. Before sampling this wine, I had never heard of the winery, located in Edna Valley, not far from San Luis Obispo, on the Central Coast of California. Based on this bottle, though, I might have to find out more. Another SIP Certified Pinot, at $20 (and usually under in most markets), this wine is decidedly below the somewhat arbitrary $30/bottle that I established as the basement for “quality” Pinot. This wine proves: “What do I know?” Fairly translucent in the glass with fresh cherry, black pepper, and wet rock on the nose. The palate is bright and tart, with subtle fruit, a bit of earth, and considerable minerality. This is not a huge Pinot, nor is it a deep, introspective wine, causing for intense reflection. Rather, it is an apparently well-made wine, ready for some salmon, grilled chicken, or bratwurst to grace the table. Very Good. 87-89 Points.
NV McIntyre L’Homme Qui Rit Méthode Champenoise Sparkling Wine, Santa Lucia Highlands, CA: Retail $42. 100% Pinot Noir. SIP Certified. Like many wineries, McIntyre has decided to get into the sparkling wine business. Why? Easy. People love bubbles. (Full Discloser: My personal motto is “If it doesn’t sparkle, it doesn’t matter.”) I am not sure where this sparkler is made (many small-is wineries have their sparkling wines made, at least to a certain extent, by another producer since the required equipment to produce the wine is ). Fairly clear in the glass with citrus and a decided funk (and I love the funk), there is considerable tartness (the ph is barely above 3), and a very low dosage (residual sugar: 6gm/liter). This is a wine that really underscores one of my central tenets: sparkling wine is just a celebratory wine, it is perhaps the most versatile of all wines for food. And this wine benefits from food. Alone, it is introspective and perhaps a bit difficult for those used to Veuve Clicquot or Moët et Chandon. This is a sparkler for the gastronome–I would actually pair this with a steak, yes , and it would hold up no problem. Excellent. 91-93 Points.
2016 Presqu’ile Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley, CA: Retail $38. A friend of mine is a big fan of the winery (particularly the Pinot), so I was excited when I told her that this showed up as one of the samples for the SIP Certified program. Now I know why she is such a fan, this wine is fantastic: almost clear in the glass with only the slightest straw tint, the nose has good fruit (lemon peel), delicate florally (white acacia), and subtle oak (12 months French, 20% new). While this certainly has a French-style to it, the wine is decidedly Californian, albeit restrained. I could delve into this wine on a regular basis over the next handful years and be completely contented. Excellent. 90-92 Points.
2016 Riverbench Estate Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley: Retail $26. Certainly golden in the glass with lemon curd, vanilla, and a bit of oak. Even before the first sip I kinda knew this was a “traditional California Chardonnay” and I was right. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not one of those to eschew the butter and the oak, but it needs to be in balance. This one comes close. The butter and lemon are up front and the oak comes in soon after. The above average acidity helps balance all that heft. If you like your Chards big and bold, this is certainly for you. Very Good. 87-89 Points.