Successful winemaking comes down to farming, and the best winery owners not only take pride in the fruits of their viticulture, but also strive as businesspeople to be good employers, good neighbors and good stewards of the land. Some place more weight on these aspects than others, of course. There's plenty of disagreement on whether organic, biodynamic, sustainable, "natural" or hybrid approaches are best—or even what those processes ought to entail. But the attentiveness these approaches require generally begets better wine and healthier eco-systems—and helps address the environmental issues that are only coming into sharper focus as climate change and natural disasters large and small spare no wine regions.
Sommeliers, in turn, want to recommend well-made bottles from producers they respect. Who's on the vanguard of going green? We asked nine Wine Spectator Restaurant Award–winning wine pros which pours from around the world they recommend to eco-conscious—or skeptical—drinkers.
Wine Spectator: What's a "green" wine (organic, sustainable, natural or however you define it) you recommend to eco-conscious drinkers?
Amy Racine, wine director at new 2020 Best of Award of Excellence winner 701West in New York
I am not the biggest orange wine person—it’s not my taste preference—but one that I’ve really come to love is from Channing Daughters. They’re in Long Island. They make this great [cuvée called] Ramato, and it’s a skin-contact Pinot Grigio. It’s traditionally a Friulian style, it has this coppery kind of color to it, it's [aged] in Slovenian oak and has this rosy, lemon oil, orange oil perfume to it. And it’s really clean; it’s not super funky and chewy like a lot of orange wines can be. It’s really fun. It’s vegan, and they were one of the founders of the Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing viticulture program. And they really, really care about the environment and giving back.
In this case, we would venture out to an unusual place for natural wines—Bordeaux. We have fallen in love with this wine since we first had it about 10 years ago: Château Le Puy. The estate has never used chemicals or pesticides, and is farmed biodynamically. No SO2 is added during fermentation, and they only utilize native yeasts for fermentation. The wines are softer and more approachable than the traditional flavor profile of the region. While these wines drink well young, they can age as well.
Gretchen Allen, wine director at new 2020 Best of Award of Excellence winner The Cheyenne Club in Saratoga, Wyo.
I’m so into everything that Hardy Wallace of Dirty & Rowdy is doing to not only make natural wine, but to also preserve the history of old-vine Chenin in California. His Familiar Blanc [white blend] has been on the list at the Farm at Brush Creek [where the Cheyenne Club is located] since we opened. On the red side of things, I love the Venge family and their commitment to old-vine Zinfandel and Charbono in California via their Scout’s Honor.
Dry farming and everything John Williams of Frog’s Leap has done for the mission has parlayed into a ton of winemakers eschewing water consumption, but these two stand out as winemakers who are saving these old vineyards from turning into development.
Éric Texier Côtes du Rhône Brézème Syrah. Éric Texier is an innovative producer in the Rhône Valley that is well worth knowing, whether you are eco-conscious or not! Texier is an intellectual and purposeful winemaker, and all of his wines are organic.
Chateau Musar! The family estate was founded in 1930. They are located in one of the oldest winemaking areas in the world, Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. The family has always produced wines naturally with minimal intervention ... with their high-elevation vineyards along the mountain slopes. It was officially certified organic [for its vineyards] in 2006, the first in Lebanon to do so.
Peter Carillo, wine director at new 2020 Best of Award of Excellence winner Angler in Los Angeles
A.D. Beckham from Oregon’s Chehalem Mountains: These wines are delightful expressions of terroir and thoughtful winemaking. I think their very good 2018 Amphora Syrah would make an excellent backdrop for a conversation about all things “natural”—they even make their own terracotta aging vessels on-site.
Gabriel Di Bella, wine director at new 2020 Best of Award of Excellence winner Davies and Brook in London
Christian Tschida Felsen II Syrah, from Burgenland, Austria.
Parind Vora, wine director, chef and owner of new 2020 Award of Excellence winner Lockhart Bistro in Lockhart, Texas
Matthew Pridgen, wine director at new 2020 Best of Award of Excellence winner Georgia James in Houston
Lewis Dickson is a one-man show at Dickson Wines in Startzville, Texas, and something of a renegade in the Texas wine scene. He produces natural wines in a state where it is anything but common, and has been doing it for almost 20 years now, long before it was the fashionable thing to do. His wines are authentic and true to their roots and are often based on, or made entirely from, little-known grape varieties like Blanc du Bois and Black Spanish. These are terrific and unique natural wines that can hold a place at any table.
Want to stay up on the latest news and incisive features about the world's best restaurants for wine? Sign up now for our free Private Guide to Dining email newsletter, delivered every other week. Plus, follow us on Twitter at @WSRestoAwards and Instagram at @WSRestaurantAwards.