Shattered Resolutions (And Unicorns)

By Susan Spinello | Facebook.com/TheCertifiableSommelier

By now, you are well underway on your New Year’s resolutions: You’ve quit smoking, curbed your drinking to weekends, you’re eating better, taking on that juice cleanse, started dating more appropriate people, cleaned out your closet, organized your clutter, gone to bed earlier and are sleeping the right number of hours, meditated daily, called your mother, bought that new language software and are spending less time on the internet cruising for the bigger, better deal.

ROFLOL.

Let’s face it, as the clock struck midnight, I had a glass of Champagne in one hand, a cigarette in the other, I kissed an inappropriate stranger, didn’t get to bed until the sun came up and slept all day…with the inappropriate stranger. My juicer is collecting dust, I’ve been committing processed carbocide daily, my mother’s not sure if I still exist, and the only meditation I’ve been doing is justifying that since I already blew my resolutions, it’s too late to start now.

Sound familiar? At what point do we accept that we’ve set unrealistically high expectations that are doomed to fail? Perhaps this is the year to stop searching for the magic pill, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and unicorns. Reinvention involves a plan, patience, and pain leading towards continuous growth. Resolution is the spontaneous checkout register purchase of what you want right here right now. Perhaps this is the year to resolve to reinvent…oh, and there are unicorns involved, kind of.

Two years ago the Sonoma County Winegrowers (SCW) resolved to reinvent their wineries to 100% sustainable by the year 2019. As of today, almost 60% fall into the category of sustainable wineries and are completely on track for their goal of 100%. Bravo Sonoma, but what exactly does that mean? How do I know if I’m buying wine from a sustainable vineyard? And will my wine taste different? To answer these questions, let me give you a condensed version of what sustainability is and isn’t as well as a brief introduction to Organic wines and Biodynamic wines.

Sustainable wine is not a thing, but rather a practice, an attitude, a conscientious decision to do the right thing in the vineyard, the winery, and the community. It’s practicing greener efforts utilizing such things as renewable energy, repurposing resources, taking care of labor forces, educating consumers and respecting our environment for the long haul. It’s rethinking water conservation, lowering waste and emissions and farming for the future. It is not necessarily produced or grown without pesticides or herbicides or NSA (No Sulfites Added), or even regulated by any branch of government, however, there are several domestic third party certifiers such as SIP (Sustainability In Practice) and CSWA (California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance) that ensure best practices for continued improvement. Since there are no set standards enforced, sustainability is often questioned.

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As much as 30 gallons of water goes into the production of one bottle of wine when you take into consideration irrigation, frost protection, and equipment cleaning. Some of the Big Wine guys have been under fire as of late for abuse of water conservation. But chances are good that you’ve been imbibing in some amazing wine that continues to make make a difference. A good sustainable wine to try is the Wente entwine series: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Grigio from $12.99. The Wente Southern Hills Cab estate grown wine is exceptional at $18 and you can feel good that it is sourced from their Livermore Valley and the San Francisco Bay Appellations: Five generations and the oldest continuously own family wineries means you’re also buying local. Top on my list of sustainable wine producers include Frei Brothers, Rodney Strong, Byron, Cambria, Carmel Road, Peachy Canyon and Hahn. Go to sipcertified.org to see if your favorite wine is on their list.

Okay, so you feel a little better about the farmer, the land, the environment and the future. Basically, not much has changed in what you’re drinking in flavor or additives, pesticides or sulfites, but it’s that small step towards reinventing yourself. Personally, I don’t want to contribute to the problem, I want to be in the solution. 

So maybe I should go organic? After all, organic wines use natural pesticides and is regulated by the USDA (and we all know what a great job government regulators do). When I think organic, I thinks of ladybugs and butterflies eating the “bad bugs”, fresh air blowing through the vineyard at the right time of day creating lush grapes full of juice that will make my taste buds sing in harmony with the blue jays flying around my flowing hippie skirt, knowing that Monsanto is far beyond the moated chateau…and then I wake up. 

I like organic. I want to believe in organic. I even want to believe in natural pesticides, but I’m not crazy about the idea of copper sulphate killing off foraging sheep, making vineyard workers sick and polluting the groundwater. So your grapes are organic, but is your wine organic? Well that depends on the winemaking additives such as sulfites (and yes, all wine contains natural sulfites) and organic wine is no exception. Sulfites may be added after the grapes are harvested if the label reads “Organically Grown”. Other additives such as fining agents which are often animal based clarifiers to remove sediment and unwanted solids can be made from blood and bone marrow, casein (milk protein), chitin (fiber from crustacean shells), egg whites, fish oil, gelatin (use your imagination). Yuck! Oh, and it usually cost more. 

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Yet there are truly some amazing organic wines out there that are fully certified organic both in the vineyard and in the winery that are delicious and conscientious. Tablas Creek from Paso Robles has been a fan favorite of mine for years as is Heller Estates from Napa and Hawk and Horse from Lake County, but be prepared to spread open your wallet for fully USDA Certified Organic. There is an exception that I found that is palatable called CalNaturale Cabernet Sauvignon available at Whole Foods and packaged in eco­ friendly one liter Tetra Paks that are biodegradable for $13 (no corkscrew required). I don’t mean to slam organic wines or organic farming, but it’s going to make the next category of Biodynamic wines seem so much less of a freak show.

Enter the Unicorns! Biodynamics is and has been one of the most controversial subjects in the wine world for the past 90 years. Some have equated it to witchcraft and voodoo while others have shown scientific evidence to the contrary. Biodynamics employs the celestial powers of the moon and the universe sending vibes resonating between man and earth and stars. It treats the vine and the vineyard as a holistic body of life and permits the ultimate expression of terroir.

It’s basically bullshit. I mean actual, tangible bullshit.

One of the main practices in biodynamics is in composting by taking a hollow unicorn horn (okay, so it’s really a bull’s horn), filling it with cow manure, and burying it during the Winter Equinox. It is then exhumed and precisely seeped into a tea which is sprayed onto the vines to create a truly nutrient enriched fertilizer that preserves the ecosystem and works in harmony with nature creating better tasting fruit, thus better tasting wine. There’s some naked dancing and howling at the moon and a high priestess named Maria Thun who created a biodynamic calendar divided up into Root, Fruit, Flower and Leaf days which coincide with the elements of Earth, Fire, Air and Water.

Organic-Winery

The ancient Greeks and Egyptians have looked to celestial bodies for guidance, navigation and farming. Ben Franklin’s 1739 Poor Richard’s Almanac and The Farmers Almanac are based on the premise of biodynamics, so who’s to say it’s bullshit?

Austrian physicist Rudolph Steiner shook the world in 1924 by creating nine different “preparations” to be used in the vineyard, each a little freakier than the next. But you can enjoy a wide range of truly stunning biodynamic wines today without knowing that a stag’s bladder is filled with Yarrow flowers.

Bonterra, Bonny Doon, Grgich Hills Cellar, Joseph Phelps Vineyards, Quintessa, Robert Sinskey Vineyards, Frog’s Leap, Frey Vineyards, the list goes on. Surprised? It answers the question “but is it good?” Benziger Family Winery founded more than 30 years ago, and the model for biodynamics in Sonoma, recently sold to The Wine Group which produces one of the largest selection of low-­priced wines, so keep an eye out for stinging nettles in your box wine.

Sustainability has taken a front seat in this year’s Super Bowl 50 which is focusing on creating a positive impact on the social and economic climate for the Bay Area. Levi’s Stadium is a LEED Gold Certified stadium that is built on sustainable land, uses NRG Energy solar panels where applicable, utilizes reclaimed wood and building products where possible, uses reclaimed water for playing field irrigation, sponsors local suppliers providing farm­-to-­table concessions, and will be composting and recycling to the greatest extent possible.

So next time you pick up a bottle of wine read the label. Is it from a sustainable vineyard, Certified Organic, or Biodynamic? Look for local beers that are produced in a sustainable manner that didn’t have to travel halfway around the world imparting toxic emissions. I am proud that we’re taking our consciousness and awareness of our environment to the next level. After all, we are a team and we can clearly say that we won the Super Bowl.


Rudolf Joseph Lorenz Steiner (27 February 1861 – 30 March 1925) was an Austrian philosopher, author, social reformer, architect, and esotericist. Steiner gained initial recognition at the end of the nineteenth century as a literary critic and published philosophical works including The Philosophy of Freedom. At the beginning of the twentieth century, he founded an esoteric spiritual movement, anthroposophy, with roots in German idealist philosophy and theosophy; other influences include Goethean science and Rosicrucianism.

Biodynamics is an agricultural method developed from indications given in 1924 in a series of lectures by Rudolf Steiner. It laid the foundation for a new way of thinking about the relationship of the Earth and the formative forces of Nature. Biodynamics became the first organized organic approach to farming. The ideal is for a Biodynamic farm to be a self-sufficient organism, enlivened by the biodynamic practitioner through the use of compost and spray preparations in cooperation with natural rhythms. The results of biodynamic agriculture are found in the quality of the produce, the health of the land and the livestock, and the independence from damaging modern agriculture practices with their use of herbicides, fertilizers and pesticides. Biodynamics is a way of living, working and relating to nature and the vocation of agriculture. It is based on healthy common-sense practices, consideration of the uniqueness of each landscape, and the inner development of the biodynamic practitioner.

In 1919, a political theorist of the National Socialist movement in Germany, Dietrich Eckart, attacked Steiner and suggested that he was a Jew. In 1921, Adolf Hitler attacked Steiner on many fronts, including accusations that he was a tool of the Jews, while other nationalist extremists in Germany called for a “war against Steiner”. That same year, Steiner warned against the disastrous effects it would have for Central Europe if the National Socialists came to power.

In 1922 a lecture Steiner was giving in Munich was disrupted when stink bombs were let off and the lights switched out, while people rushed the stage apparently attempting to attack Steiner, who exited safely through a back door. Unable to guarantee his safety, Steiner’s agents cancelled his next lecture tour. The 1923 Beer Hall Putsch in Munich led Steiner to give up his residence in Berlin, saying that if those responsible for the attempted coup [Hitler and others] came to power in Germany, it would no longer be possible for him to enter the country.

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