Mitigating Environmental Impact Through Sustainable Practices in Winemaking
Though summertime in New York is supposed to be about drinking on sidewalks, rooftops, patios, and in parks, this summer was dominated by terminally poor air quality, storms, flooding, and record-breaking temperatures — distinctly not what we were expecting when we were promised a “hot girl” summer.
Climate change increasingly impacts all aspects of our daily lives, including our ability to access everything from mundane necessities to minor luxuries. Extreme heat waves, increased pest pressure, and bizarre and more frequent natural disasters have all contributed to global shortages of various products, casting doubt on whether popular American indulgences, such as coffee, tea, mustard, bananas, or even sriracha, will continue to be so readily available.
Wine is no exception. In 2020, wildfires cost California wine producers nearly $4 billion as smoke-damaged grapes rotted on the vine, unharvested. Since then, wildfires have proven increasingly endemic and devastating — smoke from wildfires has been known to ruin grapes as far as 100 miles away from the fire — leading senators from the West Coast to propose legislation to increase liability productions for wine producers. Wildfires are not the only threat. Rising temperatures and droughts impact the rates at which crops mature, which can damage the product. As a result, some farmers in France, Italy, and more recently, Northern California, have begun experimenting with tropical crops such as mango and agave where their grapes once flourished.
In an attempt to save their industry from what is understood to be an existential threat, winemakers have popularized various techniques to mitigate the industry’s impacts on its surrounding ecosystem. Labels describing wines as “organic,” “biodynamic,” and “natural” have become increasingly prominent in recent years, though their precise meanings may remain elusive, making it difficult for customers concerned about the environment to find wines that are aligned with their values.
Eric Hsu, co-owner and buyer for Coast & Valley, a popular Greenpoint wine bar, is quick to point out that environmental consciousness is not ancillary to quality wine production. Rather, concern for, and efforts to take care of, the land, are directly correlated to the quality of the product. As an example, Hsu mentions “dry farming,” a traditional method in which farmers avoid irrigating their grapes, encouraging the roots to go deeper into the soil in search of water, yielding a more resilient, and according to Hsu, flavorful end product.
Broadly speaking, “organic” wine is produced without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, both of which have the potential to disrupt the surrounding ecosystem. Depending on who you ask, “natural” wine is less about environmental impact and more about the winemaking process. Natural wine is made without additives, such as non-natural occurring yeast or much-maligned sulfides. Natural wines are also sometimes harvested without machinery, which may lower emissions.
“Biodynamic” wine, described by Hsu as the most “holistic” process, incorporates both organic and natural principles while also going further. Certified biodynamic wines are grown according to a strict calendar, determined by astrological alignment, which dictates what tasks (i.e. pruning, fertilizing, harvesting) should be performed in the vineyard, and when. These practices are cognizant of how changes in pressure and gravitational forces may impact plants and the broader ecosystem — what the Old Farmer’s Almanac calls “Gardening with the Moon.” “Gardening with the Moon” practices are old, and have been utilized worldwide for centuries. However, there is very little research on how these biodynamic practices benefit the environment.
Because these terms are not always well-regulated, it is often up to retailers like Hsu to vet winemakers’ claims and educate customers on what they should be looking for. Hsu’s wine bar, Coast & Valley, which opened in 2019, makes it easy for the customer. They label environmentally conscious wines with an “S” for “sustainability focused.” Hsu told Bluedot Living Brooklyn that this is a catch-all term for both organic and biodynamic wines.
If you are interested in seeking out some wine produced in a sustainable way, use this guide to find a natural wine bar serving environmentally conscious wines in your Brooklyn neighborhood.
Five Wine Bars in Brooklyn to Visit Before Summer is Officially Over
Hsu and his partner Stephanie Watanabe started Coast & Valley in Greenpoint, Brooklyn to uplift winemakers from marginalized backgrounds and help their customers find wines that align with their personal values.
They also offer small plates and desserts — the Charred Vegan Spicy “Tuna” and the Sun-dried Tomato toasts are highlights. Hsu and his staff are also passionate about wine education, and you can sign up for their monthly Wine 101 classes here.
The menu at Terre, a Park Slope wine bar has a cutesy infographic explaining how the process of making natural wine differs from conventional wine. Terre specializes in natural Italian wines, all available by the glass, and its food menu features handmade pasta made with heritage regional grains.
Located in East Williamsburg, near Delkab Ave, Cherry On Top is an excellent destination for an eclectic atmosphere and a quality selection of natural wines. They have an $8-a-glass Happy Hour every day until 7 p.m., and feature a monthly(ish) chef’s residency, in which different visiting chefs build out curated menus, which ensures you’ll have a unique experience every time you visit.
Cherry On Top also regularly hosts poetry readings, tarot, and a “Meet Your Maker,” series designed to introduce customers to expert winemakers. The first installment was last weekend, Saturday, August 27. Follow them on Instagram to find out when the next one will be.
Focusing on French wines, a visit to The Four Horseman is a good opportunity to dive into a nearly 60-page wine list. Unlike many other wine bars on this list, The Four Horseman features fewer wines at a lower price point, none of which are available by the glass.
If you do visit, try their 2021 La Garagista “Lupo in Bocca,” a well-rated, biodynamic, recent addition to their list from Barnard, VA.
June, founded in 2015 and located in Downtown Brooklyn, has the distinction of being the first bar dedicated to natural wine in Brooklyn. They also have a food menu curated by Executive Chef Diego Moya, which features a wild mushroom ricotta toast and seared scallops, along with a selection of small plates.
If you’re intimidated by its extensive (over 60 pages) wine list (I would be), go ahead and ask your server for some recommendations. If you’ve visited the other bars on this list, you will have likely picked up a sense of what you like, so you will feel confident asking for some suggestions that align with both your principles and your palate.