Tip Tuesday: Finding Ethical Wine

People often trip up over and ask me to say the name of my site… how the hell do you pronounce the “oe”? Part of the confusion is from the mispronunciation of oenologist as “oh-nah-loh-jist”. The trick is knowing that it’s actually “eh-nah-loh-jist”. The first sound is the same “e” as in “ethical” which is how to pronounce “oethical”.

“Why?” That’s the next question. The term was born when I first started freelancing and wrote an article about a producer using sustainable practices. Oenology is the study of wine and often applied to the process of winemaking from vine to glass. The word “ethical” made sense to me and since ethical and oenology have the same starting sound I went with “oethical” to be clever. I still think it’s clever. But I get that it’s confusing.

What’s not confusing is that I’m a big fan of producing and consuming wine (and beer) that is eco-friendly. So this week, for Tip Tuesday, I’ve got some suggestions for wine and beer that you can feel good about drinking because they are taking steps to be as ethical as possible.

Not all grapes are made into ethical wine.

What is Ethical Wine?

What qualifies as ethical? A lot of that is personal, but here are some factors people consider when selecting what to drink that bring ethicals in.

Isn’t All Wine Vegan?

There are a few different definitions of vegan these days. Growing up, the vegans I knew were practicing a lifestyle that brought no harm or exploitation to animals. So it wasn’t a diet. It was a lifestyle. It included not using white sugar (at the time white sugar was still mostly made white using bone char) and honey but also not wearing wool or leather. This is the definition of vegan that resonates with me.

Using the idea that to be vegan no animal is used, most wine is not vegan because many of the fining agents in wine are animal products (dairy, fish, meat protein) these, even though not consumed, are still against a strict definition of veganism.

If you keep a vegan diet by not consuming animal products then all wine is vegan for you. If you practice veganism by avoiding anything using animals in any form, then you should look for wines marked as “vegan”.

Aren’t Natural and Organic the Same Thing?

The terms “natural” and “organic” are often used interchangeably but there are differences.

The main difference is that there is no set of standards or certifications in place for natural wine. In fact, many who produce natural wines believe that a set of rules would make natural winemaking unnatural. Instead, these producers give the name to their own wines. Chances are, a natural wine is organic but may not be certified organic.

Organic wines must be certified in order to be labeled as such. Organic wines are made without the use of synthetic chemicals. So no chemical insecticides, fungicides, fertilizers or herbicides. In some regions it is much easier to grow grapes organically.

What’s Biodynamic?

Biodynamic farming was invented by Rudolf Steiner. To be biodynamic the producer must be organic plus use biodynamic farming practices. The vineyard and all of the components of it are considered part of a larger organism. Planting, pruning and harvesting are determined by the position of the earth, sun, moon and planets.

Biodynamic farming uses 9 preparations. The 9 preparations use a mixture of plant and mineral ingredients. They are placed in different vessels including parts of animals. For example, preparation 502 uses yarrow in a stag’s bladder. Preparation 504 finds an animal skull holding oak bark.Biodynamic farming includes preparations that are kept in natural casing.

The vessels used mean that for some, biodynamic wine is not vegan. If you are a vegan who does not consume or use items made with animals, you should avoid biodynamic wine.

The Label Doesn’t Say It All

Some wines are completely organic but don’t want to go through the process and expense of certifying. There are some that use biodynamic practices but again, don’t want to deal with the process of certifying.

Is that ethical wine you're drinking? The label may tell you.

When you know the issues that drive your ethical consumption, the best way to find out if a wine meets your needs is to learn about the producer. Many producer websites include substantial information about their sustainability practices and you can find out about how they are handling water there. Many will include a note about their growing and harvesting practices that will help you determine if it is organic or not.

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