Ξ March 20th, 2008 | → 2 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Book Reviews, Winemakers, Wineries |
It is unusual to begin a book review with what is left out. But in Clive S. Michelsen’s otherwise useful guide Oregon Eco-Friendly Wine, Leading the World in “Green” Wine I found only a single line written about the Oregon wine pioneer David Lett of The Eyrie Vineyard. This is not a criticism of the book per se but, rather, it is meant to point out an odd paradox of the ‘eco-friendly’ or ‘green’ movement in the US wine industry, a movement perhaps strongest in Oregon. The paradox is that despite practicing such progressive vineyard and winery management programs a winery is effectively limited in promoting this value in its wines without certification.
Eyrie Vineyards is a case in point. Mr. Lett’s practice has always been ‘green’, avant la lettre, yet you would never know it from Mr. Michelsen’s book. In fact, the book’s competent index of wineries does not even provide contact information! This is because Mr. Michelsen’s central focus is less on eco-friendly or green as the title states than on certified wineries.
And what a list of certifying organizations he provides! There is Tilth largely a USDA Organic certifier; Low Input Viticulture and Enology, Inc. (L.I.V.E.); VINEA, though voluntary it requires for membership observing, in Michelsen’s words, “strict environmental standards and [...] high quality farming practices”; Demeter, the keeper of trademarked cosmic mysteries, so to speak; LEED, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, essentially a building and architectural certifier; and lastly, Carbon Neutral, an Oregon state government initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy use. A winery’s successful participation would be rewarded with tax breaks and carbon credits.
Each organization listed above provides their own assessment tools to a winery, of course, most require fees, on-site inspections, and exhaustive record keeping is a must for a winery to maintain its certification. In fact, it can be so demanding a regimen of paperwork that many Oregon wineries and vineyard managers, especially the smaller ones, simply choose ‘do the right thing’ anyway, practice sustainable agriculture, or continue to do so, just to avoid the hassle. Further, certification can bring associated risks of crop failure, for example. It is perhaps not quite credible that an Organic or Biodynamic etc. ‘winegrower’ (the mot du jour) would sit on his or her hands and watch disease or pests devastate their vineyard. And so it happens that some winegrowers do not seek certification precisely because they need a full ‘tool box’, as it were, owing to the multiple exigencies attending their agricultural craft. No mystery there.
On the other hand, clearly benefits flow from certification, and not only the obvious improvement of the environment. The consumer is directly informed with special marks and label modifications on the bottle itself that a wine is made responsibly and with care. The question becomes what impact such advertisements make, whether it informs consumer choice. Here in California there is a trend toward more informative ’shelf talkers’, little bits of supplemental info tacked alongside the omnipresent rating points of one critic or another, especially helpful when, for the smaller winery, label modifications my prove too costly. And in an increasingly competitive marketplace any idea will be explored.
In any event, Michelsen provides a good overview of Oregon’s AVAs, including very helpful geological notes, and writes clearly of the selected certified Oregon wineries, though many of his specific winery observations come from narratives already existing in their promotional materials on the web. In some cases little primary, independent research was conducted. Featured wineries include King Estate, Beaux Freres, co-owned by Robert Parker Jr., Sokol Blosser, and 13 others.
The book is well illustrated, most of the full color photographs taken by the author himself. But just who might work the vineyards and do the harvesting is undocumented. And surprising for a book with a copyright date of 2008 its statistical charts of Oregon’s wine industry date from 2005. Significant changes have occurred. In 2005 the total planted acreage topped 14,000, by 2006 the figure had grown to 15,600, 2007 saw yet another increase, to 17,400 total acres. Similarly has the total number of wineries grown: the 2005 figures cited report 303 (op. cit.), while by 2007 the figure climbed to 370!
The book is quite hefty, 264 pages of glossy paper (impossible to recycle!), and measures 11 1/2 x 9 1/2, not very traveller friendly for that. I would hope later editions be scaled down to a more manageable guidebook dimension. And have the pagination corrected! A bit chaotic.
All in all, Oregon can feel justly proud of their extraordinary strides forward, both with respect to the quality of their wines and ‘green’ viticulture. This book will bring a greater appreciation for what Oregon has accomplished.