A Pairing Made in Sustainable Heaven!
Natural and/or biodynamic wines are focused on creating wine in its purest form without additives or taking things out of the wine. It uses grapes that are dry farmed, pesticide free, and made This inherently means that these wines are far more sustainable than conventional wines and are a perfect fit for sustainably-minded folk, like those practicing zero waste!
What is the Zero Waste Movement?
If you haven’t heard of the zero waste movement, it sounds a bit intimidating, and honestly is a bit intimidating! However, if you look at it like an education system of all the things you can be doing to reduce your carbon footprint and make better choices for the environment, it can be a lot of fun to implement! The goal is to reduce your waste by practicing the five R’s of Refuse, Reduce, Re-use, Recycle and Rot (compost). Recycling is always considered the last resort, single-use plastic is avoided, as it can’t be recycled to with the same integrity as glass or aluminum, and composting is used to get rid of food waste.
Zero Waste in Natural Wine
While it can’t be said, or even really known unless producers outspoken about it, exactly how they are making their wines and if they are zero waste practicing on their farms and wineries, there are specific practices that are sustainable and generally use less to create better wines!
Some of these practices include dry farming, not spraying the grapes with anything except organic compounds or preparations (depending on farming practice) and hand-harvesting.
We will do a whole post on dry farming soon, this is a general overview of how dry farming works. Most simply, a farmer doesn’t water or irrigate their vines at all. This causes the vines to root deeper in the soil, adding complexity to the wine and making them stronger and more resistant to drought long-term. The ecological impact of this is obvious, as using less fresh water is increasingly important with global warming, especially in the new world zones that are heating up at rapid speeds.
Conventional winemakers have been known to spray chemicals like the ones in round-up on their vines, as well as different fungicides and other chemicals I can’t imagine anyone really wants in their bodies. Natural winemakers either practice organic farming, meaning they only spray with organic compounds, or biodynamic farming, where the vines are sprayed with preparations that are created from compost made on the farm and create an ecosystem around the vines.
This is another obvious one. Natural wines are hand harvested, meaning there aren’t giant machines roaming through the vines and shaking out anything that might be in the vines at that moment. This is better for the environment and better for the wine, as hand harvesting prevents the grapes from getting smashed and potentially starting to ferment early.
After the grapes are off the vine and in the cellar, there are lots of unnatural and unsustainable ways wines can be doctored, produced, and sold. Natural winemakers practice sustainable winemaking through: using native yeasts and spontaneous fermentation, leaving the wines unfined and unfiltered, and even reusing their grape musts for other delicious beverages or uses!
Native Yeasts and Spontaneous Fermentation
Once in the winery, conventional winemakers will use selected yeasts, instead of the ambient ones on the grapes and in the air. This creates a wine profile they are looking to make versus letting the wine express its sense of place. Natural winemakers also let the wines decide when they want to start and finish fermentation, instead of controlling it via chilling and heating the vats. As you can imagine, both of those practices are both energy consuming, produced from unnatural products and consume a lot of extra water.
Unfined and Unfiltered
Many, but not all, zero wasters are vegan. If you are, then this section is potentially the most important because the fining process in conventional wines makes most wines non-vegan friendly. Because animal products, like fish bladders or egg whites to clarify the wine, this is another area where natural wines are a great fit for the sustainability focused.
Reusing Grapes/Grape Musts
Verju means green juice is made from grapes that either fell off early or were trimmed off the vines before they ripened. The vintner then presses it to create a tart juice, typically without alcohol, thought Martha Stouman makes a lovely one coming in at 3.4%.
Piquette is made from adding water and doing a second pressing of the grape pomace. They are typically low in alcohol, from 5-8% and can be slightly fizzy. Both styles are using what was already produced to create more from it AND they’re delicious!
One final point I will make is that there isn’t a great way to prevent the shipping aspect of wine, as it does still have to travel by truck or ship, which has always bugged us. However, with options like carbon offsets we are able to at least offset the natural wine on its journey from its cellar to your home!
As practitioners (though admittedly not very great ones) of zero waste, we love how natural wines fit in with this lifestyle and support many of the foundational beliefs we have about the environment and the best way to live a sustainable life! If you haven’t tried it yet, you can find a local store and or buy some online and have the carbon from shipping to your home offset!
If you'd like to know more about Zero Waste some of our favorite resources are:
If you'd like to know more about natural wine:
Holly Berrigan is the Founder of MYSA Natural Wine. She has a WSET Level 3 certification with Distinction, is a member and writer for the Porto Protocol and Slow Food USA, and is a student in Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Massachusetts Stockbridge.