Friday, October 24, 2014

Edible Ojai: Sipping the Central Coast's Green Wine

As published in Edible Ojai, Spring 2008.

Taking drinking responsibly to a whole new level.

Whether you prefer red, white or rosé, make sure you give green a try. Green wine is the eco-friendly derivative of winemakers who champion efforts to be good to the land while also delivering a palate-pleasing product to discerning wine lovers. Whether employing biodynamic techniques, certified sustainable practices or rigorous organic standards, green wines are steadily becoming de rigueur here on the Central Coast.

Sustainable Vine Wine Tours
A year ago, Bryan Hope realized his dream of starting a business that would take advantage of his background in the green building field while also giving visitors to the Santa Barbara wine country a unique experience. Sustainable Vine Wine Tours shares the award-winning wines made by local winemakers engaging in sustainable agriculture with would-be wine tasters turned eco-tourists.

“People tend to talk more about green than they actually do, but that is starting to change,” said Hope, a member of 1% For The Planet, who walks (rather, drives) the talk. His biofueled nine-passenger van provides an environmentally conscious alternative to other tour vehicles.

Among the vineyards Hope tours are Alma Rosa, Ampelos, Beckmen, Demetria, Sunstone, and Presidio. These vineyards are either biodynamic, organic or certified sustainable.

Beckmen Vineyards
One of the vineyards Hope visits is Beckmen, where 100 percent biodynamic grapes are farmed at their Purisima Mountain Vineyard. Biodynamic farming was first pioneered in the 1920s by scientist Rudolf Steiner, who wanted to offer a proactive and holistic approach to farming. Biodynamics respects the natural cycles of the land and has been found to naturally build soil life and vitality, while defending against pests and disease.

When owner Steve Beckmen first started trying this approach to farming in 2001, he was skeptical but soon noticed that the vines grew straighter and the leaves were richer in color and health. In addition, the soil was healthier, retained more moisture and showed an increase in sugar and tannin quality. Wine produced from these grapes expressed what Beckmen felt Purisima was truly about—rich, ripe wines that were balanced and elegant. 

“Our goal,” said Beckmen, “is to always get better and better. Biodynamics allows us to achieve the purest possible expression of our Purisima Mountain Vineyard terroir, which is at the very heart of our winegrowing philosophy. Since we’ve gone biodynamic, we have produced some of our best wines ever.”

Herzog Wine Cellars
Further to the south, in what has been hailed as the gateway to the Central Coast wine region, is Herzog Wine Cellars, the largest producer of kosher wine in the world. With praise from “Wine Enthusiast” and “The Robb Report,” all wine lovers—not just those seeking kosher wine—are taking notice. And with a dedication to the observance of sustainable practices, eco-sippers are nodding their approval as well.

“Herzog winery has made a commitment to be responsible stewards toward our environment and our resources,” said winemaker Joe Hurliman.

Herzog has made long-term contractual agreements with select growers to ensure sustainability, including good neighbor practices (such as putting mitigations in place for dust and noise) and how they deal with pests (like using falcons to control rodents). They partnered with the Watts family in Lodi, one of the first to be certified sustainable by Protected Harvest, and decided to bottle a product exclusively using those grapes.  The result is their 2006 Herzog Special Reserve Zin Gris, Lodi, which carries the coveted certified emblem right on the label. 

“Sustainability, and working with these certified growers, is for us a rewarding and effective balance between protecting finite resources and maintaining family farming,” said Hurliman.

Casa Barranca
Right here in our own backyard is Casa Barranca, an elegant estate with a vineyard and winery nestled against the foothills of Ojai. Owner Bill Moses touts his proud distinction of being the only certified organic winery on the Central Coast with a certified organic vineyard.

In order to receive the designation, Moses says that certified organic grapes must be used and the wine must be made in a certified organic facility without the use of toxic chemicals.

“I believe that grapes properly farmed and organically grown exhibit a truer expression of the terroir, and the organic fertilizers are better for our earth and body,” Moses said.

Moses supplements the grapes produced by his small vineyard with grapes from other vineyards, using Laetitia and Sanford for Pinot Noir, Wulf for Viognier, Haulier and Sunstone for Syrah, Sunstone Merlot and French Camp for Cabernet.  As at his vineyard, all the grapes are certified organic and Moses assists in the farming. 

As organic winemaking has become more advanced, so, too, has its reputation. “Historically organic winemakers were unsophisticated players in viticulture and failed to pair the right grape varietal with the terroir/soil, nor did they have the vineyard management sophistication, resulting in marginal grapes with very high pH,” said Moses, adding, “Today some of the most respected vineyards in the world are certified organic.”

Moses’ wines have been awarded 90 points and higher from “Wine Enthusiast,” and he has won gold medals in several wine competitions, going head-to-head against “conventionally made” wines and some very big names, while, he says, “…busting the paradigmatic belief that organic wines are inferior.”

Movino Wine Bar [SIDEBAR]
Swirl a glass of green wine with eco-enophile, Suzy Johlfs, owner of Movino Wine Bar in downtown Ojai, whose newest menu item is all the rage.

“…I always felt that organic wines were misunderstood and were not given the respect from wine connoisseurs that they deserve. ‘Go Green’ is our contribution to bringing awareness to the community about organic wines and supporting these wineries’ planet conscious efforts,” said Johlfs.

Movino’s “Go Green” wine flight trio consists of two-ounce pours of Bonterra Chardonnay, Casa Barranca Syrah and Sunstone Merlot, and is priced at $13.00.


With so many tasty wine choices available in our region, why not raise a glass and toast the choices that reduce our carbon footprint?
Contact Information:

Sustainable Vine Wine Tours, Santa Barbara
There is a three-person minimum for all tours.
(805) 698-3911

Beckmen Vineyards, Los Olivos
(805) 688-8664

Herzog Wine Cellars, Oxnard
(805) 983-1560

Casa Barranca, Ojai
Tasting at Local Hero Bookstore in the Arcade
(805) 640-9250

Movino Wine Bar, Ojai
Also in the Arcade
(805) 646-1555

Lisa Snider is an award-winning freelance writer living in Ojai with her husband, Bill, and their Labrador retriever. Lisa’s documentary, The Price of Paradise, was recently screened at the Santa Barbara and Ojai Film Festivals. 

As originally published, with photos: