A Toast to Green Beer and Wine
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You may have already considered serving locally produced, organic foods to your holiday guests, but what about the beer and wine? Significant amounts of water and fossil fuels are used to grow conventional grapes, barley, and hops, and to transport the finished products to market, but a growing number of beer and wine makers have made a commitment to produce beverages with the same (or better) quality as conventional products and with less environmental impact.
Organic beer and wine is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For a product to be labeled “organic,” 95 percent of the ingredients (other than water and yeast) must be grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides and must not be genetically engineered. In addition, wines labeled “organic” cannot contain any added sulfites (a preservative that can aggravate asthma). Products labeled “made with organic ingredients” must contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients and may contain a small amount of added sulfites.
A small but growing number of wine makers are growing grapes using methods inspired by the philosophy of biodynamics, which holds that plants, animals, soil, air, and celestial influences work in harmony to create self-sustaining farms. Many of these sustainable farming practices (such as avoidance of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides) are required for organic certification, but also include crop rotation and composting. Wines labeled “biodynamic” have met certification standards set by the nonprofit Demeter Association, which has trademarked the term.
Purchasing beer and wine made by local producers minimizes fossil fuel use associated with shipping. And some breweries offer local customers the option of buying beer in refillable 64-ounce glass bottles called growlers, which reduces the environmental impact associated with packaging.
Local wine options might be limited depending on where you live, so when buying a wine made outside your region of the country, consider the distance it has had to travel in order to reach you. The American Association of Wine Economists (see the related links) provides a comparison of the global warming emissions associated with transporting wines from various countries to several major U.S. cities.