When I first decided that how a wine is grown mattered to me as much as whether I enjoy the taste, I wished I had a handy reference that laid out all the environmentally friendly practices, certifications and wineries. Instead, I spent months reading books and websites, interviewing experts, tracking down certified or practicing producers, touring vineyards and wineries and poring over retail shelves. (See Green Revolutionaries.)
Washington wine writer, educator and sommelier Shannon Borg wanted the same thing when she started her journey, so she curated her own personal introduction to the topic, focusing on the U.S. West Coast. The result is a nice stocking stuffer of a book for eco-minded foodies who want to learn more about wine or for wine lovers who've decided it's time to know more about sustainable, organic and biodynamic winegrowing.
The Green Vine does much of the work for you, explaining the requirements behind the different certification labels, from international and national standards to regional programs that target unique local needs, such as Napa Green, Oregon-based Salmon Safe and Vinea in Washington. More than half the book is devoted to highlighting some 200 wineries in Northern California, Oregon, Washington and even British Columbia and Idaho for diversity—just a sampling, but plenty to occupy lovers of New World wines through a tasting exploration of the categories. The recommended wines to try are generally solid choices.
Borg brings an accessible style to a complex topic, starting with concise overviews of terroir, vineyard techniques (such as cover crops, natural predators and dry farming) and winery practices, including additives, energy use and packaging choices. She is an enthusiastic guide; if occasionally prone to adopting the language ("Frankenwine", "manipulated") of "natural" wine advocates, she also takes time to discuss the debates over greenwashing and certain aspects of biodynamics.
There are a few lapses. Oddly, the book leaves out the California Central Coast's Sustainability in Practice (SIP) program, which originated in 1996, yet includes Bee Friendly Farming, with only one winery. Amid the detailed explanation of all the labeling and sulfites variations in the National Organic Program, I didn't see mention of a key detail—that it takes three years without synthetic inputs before the certification can be earned.
And the problem with a book format, which Borg acknowledges in her introduction, is that it can go quickly out of date. That happened here on a few items, from missing the recent change in ownership at Araujo Estate to the Oregon Wine Board winding down its Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine certification.
But those are minor quibbles in an effort that clearly reflects a passion for learning and the dedication to compile the information so that others may start their own ongoing education.
The Green Vine: A Guide to West Coast Sustainable, Organic and Biodynamic Wines, Shannon Borg (Skipstone / Mountaineers Books, $17, 192 pages)