Which would you pick: a glass of wine or an endangered Burrowing Owl (they're about the same size)?
Sommeliers taste wine seeking notes, aroma, acidity, the appearance "in the glass", the sensations "in the mouth" and the finish. But when I planned my green nuptials over four years ago, I had more on my mind than the dilemma of red or white (and which guests could not be seated next to each other).
In Western Canada, a lot of local wine comes from B.C.'s Okanagan Valley. It's a great vacation spot with beautiful lakes and orchards. It's also home to rare plants and animals of the antelope-brush ecosystem (PDF file) — and a great place to grow grapes!
It's also one of the four most endangered ecosystems in all of Canada.
Over 60 per cent of antelope-brush habitat has been lost to houses, grazing or agriculture. Today only 3,100 hectares remain, and 88 species are either gone or at risk of disappearing. When wine tasting and buying, keep nature in mind.
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"Made with organically grown grapes"
Wines with this label have a minimum of 70 per cent organic grapes, but are not the same as certified organic wines. They're often processed using the same equipment and in the same facility as conventional wine, and may also contain sulphur dioxide.
Certified organic wine
Producers use 100 per cent organic grapes and can't use toxic pesticides, herbicides, or synthetic fertilizers. Instead, they fertilize with compost, compost teas, green manure, and cover crops. They also rely on mechanical weeding, mowing around the vines, mulching, and companion planting. To avoid using insecticides to control cutworms, they let chickens graze under the vines or handpick the worms off leaves. Certified organic wine doesn't use genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or contain sulphites. (Conventional wines use GMO yeast.)
Biodynamic vineyards use natural resources to cultivate grapes without pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, or growth stimulants, and often meet or exceed the standards and regulations for organic-certified farming.
Ask the tough questions
Find out how the vineyard protects, maintains or enhances the surrounding ecosystem. Burrowing Owl Estate Winery, for example, donates proceeds to the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of B.C., Tinhorn Creek has worked with The Land Conservancy to restore rattlesnake habitat and the South Okanagan-Similkameen Stewardship Program to build snake fences, and Working Horse Winery allows bears to steal a few bunches of grapes here and there.
What are your favourite Earth-friendly wines?
Lindsay Coulter, Queen of Green