Green Valley Giants

Environmentally friendly vineyards are producing some tasty reds and whites.
One short spin down the St. Helena Highway (Route 29) in Napa Valley and it’s easy to see that “green” is in fashion this spring. Oodles of mustard seed, custom insect gardens and solar panels strategically speckle the countryside.

Even more than in corporate America, where monitoring carbon footprints and developing office recycling programs shows environmental responsibility, going green in the vineyard takes serious consideration and commitment to maintain a high level of quality.

Take Robert Sinskey Vineyards, for example. Located on Silverado Trail, the Sinskeys operate an organic farm where the soil is viewed as a living entity supporting the vines. Weeds are managed by integrating competitive plants such as mustard seed. Attracting natural predators, instead of simply spraying with harmful chemicals, controls pests.

Treating the soil better (no pesticides or herbicides) reduces the amount of unnatural treatments and irrigation, producing fruit on the vine that is tastier in the glass.

Going green means spending time in the vineyard, assessing the needs of the vines, analyzing the soil, creating a healthful growing plan and implementing it in the vineyard over the next several years.

So how can you tell if a red or white is green? Check out the back label. Wines labeled “made from organically grown grapes” are chemical-free and those labeled “certified organic” are chemical-free and do not add sulfur.

At the top of the heap are wines labeled “biodynamic.” These übergreen wines are crafted from vines planted, pruned and harvested according to the position ofstars and treated to holistic tonics prepared to keep the soil in shape.

Benziger Family Winery has coined the phrase “farming for flavors” to describe its move away from conventional practices. From recycling water to composting, all facets of vineyard operations are decidedly Earth-friendly to keep quality high. Think greenhouse vs. homegrown tomatoes and you’ll get the picture.

Still, skeptics ask whether “going green” is a fleeting fad or here to stay. The only way to tell will be if quality, not marketing, remains the driver for these producers once the buzz dies down.Marianne Frantz, CWE and founder of the Cleveland Wine School, was joined by her tasting consultants in selecting and sampling wines for this month’s Cellar Notes.

2006 Robert Sinskey Abraxas “Vin de Terroir,” Napa Valley ($29): Medium body, refreshing acidity with beautiful aromas of white peach, flowers, spice and citrus. A blend of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Gewurztraminer, this white wine is made for the table.

2004 Robert Sinskey Cabernet Franc Vandal Vineyards, Napa Valley ($43): Ruby red and full-bodied. Medium-plus acidity and firm ripe tannins support chocolate, violet and herbal aromas. Fragrant yet meaty. Hold or decant now and serve with lamb or veal.

2005 Benziger Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast ($26): Ruby red with layers of raspberry, cherry and baking spices. Medium body with bright acidity and medium alcohol provide a clean finish. The wine is versatile and may be paired with salmon, tuna or pork dishes.

2006 Benziger Sauvignon Blanc, North Coast ($12): Pale lemon with crisp acidity and moderate alcohol. Citrus and floral aromas are bright on the palate for a clean finish, making it an excellent wine for spring dishes. Great value wine.

2006 Frog’s Leap Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley ($22): Dry, medium body with zesty aromas of citrus, floral and mineral. Crisp acidity, moderate alcohol, pronounced aromas and a lack of oak give the wine a clean, spring freshness. A must-try wine.

2005 Frog’s Leap Zinfandel, Napa Valley ($30): Bright acidity and moderately warm alcohol balance the big, lush fruits of the wine. Boysenberry, cherry and vanilla spice make this wine good for the table or alone in the glass.
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