Updated: May 3, 2021
As we move from Earth Day to Mother’s Day, I have been thinking about women in wine. During my years as a Wine Director and sommelier, the quality and value of the wine was always paramount. But, if this beautiful wine presented to me was made by a woman, I was sold. If it was made by a woman and done sustainably so - even better. What does sustainability mean when applied to wine? It can mean many things - but it conveys that time was spent in the vineyards and that they were tended to more holistically. Perhaps cover crops were used to keep the soil healthy, animals are allowed to graze to keep the need for tractors at a minimum, and the viticulture may even be certified organic or biodynamic. At the end of the day, it means a lot of thought, hard work, and care went into the wine that sits before you and arguably the wines may show a special character that is hard to put your finger on. Are they more vibrant, soulful, or is it the joy of drinking a fine beverage made by someone who is trying to have a lighter footprint environmentally? Happily, there are many amazing examples of such wines and below are women who are fully embracing sustainability.
Cherie Spriggs, head winemaker of the highly regarded Nyetimber sparkling wines from England, is notably the first person outside of Champagne to win the International Wine Challenge’s Sparkling Winemaker of the Year award in 2018. Her approach is sustainable in that the vineyards are surrounded by natural habitats, meadows, and corridors for wildlife. With the addition of sheep, they have been able to reduce tractor usage, their carbon footprint, and add to the soils nutrition. Waste from the viticulture and pomace from the pressing is composted and used as fertilizer in the vineyards. To further lighten the carbon foot print, Nyetimber has moved to lighter bottles. But, what is in the bottle? Take the Classic Cuvée, made in the traditional method like Champagne - you have delightful notes of brioche and apple, hints of earthiness, and rich in body with a refreshing acidity.
Travel down to Tuscany for Brancaia’s Barbara Widmer. Having studied organic and biodynamic viticulture and enology in her home country of Switzerland, she came back to her family’s winery and began to integrate those philosophies into the vineyards. The certified organic vineyards were planted with complimentary plants over two decades ago to keep the soil and vines healthy, solar powers all of the hot water needs of the winery, and the glass bottles themselves have decreased in weight allowing for a smaller carbon footprint. In fact, with all of the measures that they take, their winery is actually carbon negative. Again, but what’s in the bottle? Take their top tier, Il Blu - a soulfully rich and silky expression of a Merlot driven blend with Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. Sleek and modern, but definitively Italian with the bright acidity of the Sangiovese offering a classic Tuscan finish.
On our own shores, in Newberg Oregon, Leah Jorgenson - of her eponomyously named winery, works with vineyards that are all certified sustainable via L.I.V.E. (Low Impact Viticulture Enology) and certified Salmon Safe. You may see the Salmon Safe label on wines from Washington and Oregon as there is a great interest in saving our famous salmon runs. The winery itself is sustainably built, nothing goes to the landfill, and all packaging is recyclable. Like Nyetimber and Brancaia, she has moved to lighter bottles as well to lighten the carbon foot print. The Maes vineyard, where the grapes for her delicious Blanc de Cabernet Franc and Grand Reserve Cabernet Franc are sourced from, is organic, but not yet certified. Look to her delightful Blanc de Cabernet Franc and you will find an expressive white wine made from red grapes that showcases bright orchard fruit, a slight herbal note, and refreshing acidity that makes it a truly unique wine.
This is but a few of the women making wonderful wines and keeping the environment in mind. Here are a few more to seek out:
Antica Terra from Dundee, Oregon Cullen from Margaret River, Australia
Occhipinti from Vittoria, Sicily Corison from Napa Valley, California
Please reach out to Mariano if you’d like to have him source any of the wines for you!