First came slow food. Then slow fashion. Could slow winemaking be next?
In recent years, the ‘slow’ movement has crept up all around us, aimed at being more than just a seasonal trend. Rather, it is a movement that is steadily gaining momentum and is likely here to stay. Today’s mainstream food and fashion industries rely on globalized mass production. With retailers selling the latest fashion or food trends at exceptionally low prices, consumers are easily swayed to buy more than they need. But this overconsumption comes with a hidden price tag on the environment and workers in the supply chain.
So how does this link to wine, you ask? As people have become increasingly aware of what goes into their wine glass, there is a growing taste for the bigger picture.
In many ways, wine drinkers can be as demanding. In truth, winemakers only get one opportunity a year to craft something special, and with a history of bulk wine production at a low cost that eats away at our wine economy, there has been a frightening trend of large-scale uprooting of vines to make way for more profitable fruit crops. So, what can we do?
In recent years, there has been an awakening in the vineyards. One that speaks to more sustainable farming practices and social advocacy. Eco-conscious wineries are coming increasingly to the fore, with the aim of being friendlier to their environment. Many wineries have introduced sustainable operations such as water-wise irrigation, recycling, and renewable energy use.
Meanwhile, others have become full-fledged eco-warriors, by incorporating natural, organic, or biodynamic production techniques. This much slower and more complicated way of winemaking comes at a price, but the argument is that if it’s better for the environment, it’s better for you.
Much like your organic fruits and veggies, organic wine is made with organically grown grapes, grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial chemicals (the opposite of a standard, non-organic wine). A notable example of an organic wine farm is Reneyke, found in the Stellenbosch Valley. Reneyke prides themselves on being organic, and they have innovatively adapted themselves to their surroundings, allowing the natural Cape fynbos to grow amongst the vineyards, while ducks provide pest control and all composts are prepared on the farm from natural sources to promote self-sufficiency.
Meanwhile, biodynamic wine is made with a set of farming practices that views the farm or vineyard as one solid organism, incorporating an energy management system that doesn’t follow common manipulations like adding yeast or adjusting acidity in the wine. Reneyke has also started expanding towards biodynamic practices.
Finally, there is natural or ‘minimal intervention’ wine, which is wine made with minimal chemical and technological intervention, both in growing grapes and making them into wine.
The term is used to distinguish such wine from organic wine and biodynamic wine because of differences in cellar practices, such as never adding or removing anything during winemaking. At the moment, natural winemaking practices in South Africa are still fledgling, but there are some great examples like Mount Abora.