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Wine: climate in a bottle

Delegates from approximately 200 countries will meet in Scotland from October 31 until November 12 to discuss ways to mitigate climate change.

As I have had a career “selling climate in a bottle” for more than half my life, I am extremely interested in this subject.

I can think of no better words than those purported to have been said in a speech to the new governor of Washington State in 1854 by Chief Seattle of the Duwamish tribe: “We do not inherit the land from our ancestors, but only borrow it from our children.”

Vineyard owners are keenly aware of climate change. Many are dedicated to making pure, nature-friendly wine. In fact, interest is growing in them at an encouraging pace and so for the next few articles I will do my best to share some of their practices.

For those of you seeking out organic or biodynamic wines it is not easy to convince you of their purity if there is no indication on the label, but that is often the case.

As an example, an empty 2019 Defaix Chablis bottle sits on our dining table as we enjoyed it with a rare Bermuda rockfish dinner last night (our Bermuda laws strictly control their catch limits to protect this species). There is no indication on the bottle, and yet I firmly believe that this domaine obtained organic certification in 2009 and that they also practise biodynamic methods.

I have been told by a family member of one of our most popular Italian wines that they have always employed nature-friendly organic farming but hesitate to be officially certified and stating it on their labels. They do not want to be placed in a special section of store shelves that is sought out by “hippies and tree-huggers”. Surely this has now become mainstream as so many of us are deeply concerned. By the way, the minerality and bright lemon and grapefruit of this chablis married perfectly with the fish. $32.50 (Stock #7873).

For a few dollars less – $28 – you could pick up a bottle of 2019 Defaix Petit Chablis. For me this is a bit of a misnomer, as you might be inclined to think that the word petit refers to something smaller or less, but the fact is that the Defaix land is ideally situated high on the slopes of this designated area and the quality is excellent. With juicy apple and stone fruit aromas and flavours, a pulpy texture and a vibrant cool close, this is a wine "on the fruit", as the French would say. It reflects both the depth of the vintage and the cool soils of the region. (Stock #7876).

Of the 400 wineries in Napa Valley, 300 have green certificates (not as strict as organic and possibly a later subject to write about); 40 are certified organic and a few biodynamic.

One of my favourites has been 100 per cent solar-powered for many years, makes their own pure compost, recycles all water and employs a drip irrigation system that saved them 100,000 gallons in its first year.

Cover crops are planted between the rows of vines to prevent soil erosion and harbour beneficial insects like spiders and ladybugs that eat the bad bugs. I remember well the time that I stood with the owner in their most famous plot of land staring uphill at the rock outcrops that the legendary stag leapt across. He pointed out bird houses on top of tall poles and explained that owl families lived there and patrolled the vineyard at night for gophers, mice and other vine-destroying residents. Other bare-topped poles were perches for the hawks that hunted by day. There is more to the Shafer Vineyards story, but there is no indication on their label that could entice someone seeking an organic offering. Of course, they do not use man-made pesticides, fungicides or herbicides.

Let me make a comparison and hopefully not offend anyone. We know couples that have been together for many years, who love and take very good care of each other. They have never stood in front of a judge or religious representative and promised to do or not do certain things, and have no documented proof that they are officially together. For me there should be a word(s) to use, as boyfriend or girlfriend sounds rather silly for middle-aged folks. And while we are considering this, how about a word for wines like Shafer and Defaix and many others that have not pursued that piece of paper to say that they are officially organic?

I know of cases where vineyard owners consider some of their practices to be even better than the mandated organic ones and so prefer their own methods. One example, I believe I am correct in saying, is that certified organic rules ask for the rows between the vines to be ploughed. Is that better than the way Shafer handles this space with erosion protecting cover crops and friendly insects?

Why not try a bottle of wine that is named for the rodent-hunting red-shouldered hawks that the family works with? I refer to 2018 Shafer Red Shoulder Ranch Carneros Chardonnay. Critic Jed Dunnock awards it 95/100 and writes: “The 2018 Chardonnay Red Shoulder Ranch is beautifully done, with a vibrant yet rich style carrying notes of buttered lemon, orange blossom, white flowers, and toasted bread. With bright acidity, terrific overall balance and a great finish, this is classic Napa Valley chardonnay to enjoy over the coming five to seven years. I wouldn't be surprised to see it keep even longer as well.” $66.90 (Stock #6815). Shafer reds stand among a handful of the very finest that our planet offers.

Today, I have tried to paint a picture of how so many grape growers and winery owners are working more and more with Mother Nature and I find few that are not. Next week I will concentrate on biodynamics and list a few of our wines that carry the Demeter symbol on their label to assure you that they are following the strict, and sometimes mystical, rules of working with this wonderful, planet-healing, pure system. In fact, I have two next to me on my desk – one from Amélie & Charles Sparr in Alsace and one from Chakana in Argentina. Both are new arrivals to add to our growing selection of the purest wines.

This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. Contact Michael Robinson at mrobinson@bll.bm. Burrows Lightbourn have stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554) and Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355). Visit www.wineonline.bm

Cover crops are planted between the rows of vines to prevent soil erosion at Shafer Hillside Vineyard (Photograph supplied)

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Published October 22, 2021 at 7:58 am (Updated October 22, 2021 at 7:45 am)

Wine: climate in a bottle

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