Slow Wine, Explained

An illustration of Slow Wine
Illustration by Rebecca Bradley

As a young man, Paul Beveridge developed a deep affinity for Slow Food, an international movement that aspires to preserve simple, traditional ways of living and eating. In 1990, he and his wife even took a Slow Food road trip through France and Italy, where they relished the slower pace of life and outstanding meals.

Today, it’s not hard to see Slow Food’s principles reflected in Beveridge’s company, Wilridge Vineyard, Winery & Distillery in Yakima, Washington. The self-proclaimed “greenest winery in Washington” is certified organic and biodynamic, runs on solar power and sells wine in refillable bottles. Beveridge, a former environmental attorney, says these efforts “completely appeal to me and my life’s work to heal the earth.”

Paul Beveridge of Wilridge Vineyard, Winery & Distillery and Assistant Winemaker Lenora Thelen
Paul Beveridge of Wilridge Vineyard, Winery & Distillery and Assistant Winemaker Lenora Thelen / Photo by Juliann Itter

Visitors to the property can camp, ride their horses, hike through the vines or wile away the afternoon on the tasting room’s porch.

Employees are treated with dignity and respect, too. Among other things, Beveridge lists the vineyard manager and assistant winemaker’s name on each bottle to give them ownership over the process of creating award-winning wines.

These practices and ideals earned Wilridge a spot in the Slow Wine Guide, an annual publication that recognizes wineries that live up to Slow Food’s mission of “good, clean, fair.”

The publication was first available in Italy in 2010. It began to feature Slovenian wineries a few years later and added California in 2017.

Oregon was the next U.S. state to be added in 2019. Plans are to include New York and Washington producers in 2021.

Biodynamic Muscat Blanc on the vine at Wilridge Vineyard, Winery & Distillery
Biodynamic Muscat Blanc on the vine at Wilridge Vineyard, Winery & Distillery / Photo by Juliann Itter

According to Deborah Parker Wong, a wine journalist and educator who is also the publication’s American national editor, Slow Wine helps consumers plan travel and direct spending to wineries that embody the Slow Food ethos.

This emphasis on values is one of the many things that sets the project apart. Each year, contributing writers visit every featured winery for a first-hand look at its operations. Those visits were suspended this year because of Covid-19, but this practice will resume in the future.

During those visits, wineries are asked to confirm that they don’t use glyphosate, or other synthetic herbicides.

Cellar Master Julia Alvarez Perez punching down Pinot Noir at Forge Cellars
Cellar Master Julia Alvarez Perez punching down Pinot Noir at Forge Cellars / Photo courtesy of Forge Cellars

Entries are written in a casual, down-to-earth style to appeal to all levels of wine drinkers. Each entry includes wine reviews, but not the traditional scores.

“We do give awards, and those awards are very meaningful,” says Wong. “Those awards are really where consumers can look for the highest ideals.”

They also indicate the highest-quality wines.

“The quality of the wines that we taste for the guide is just outrageous,” says Wong, who is currently reviewing wines for the 2021 edition. “The parade of wines that I’m tasting is bar none. It doesn’t get much better here in California.”

Many participants are certified organic or biodynamic, but the listing doesn’t exclude non-certified vineyards. Instead, it shares information about farming practices so that consumers can make informed choices.

What's the Difference Between Organic and Biodynamic Wine?

The goal is to be transparent and inclusive of those that try to be eco-friendly and recognize the complexity of farming.

Rick Rainey, managing partner of Forge Cellars in the Finger Lakes region of New York, says that the cold, wet climate makes it difficult to grow grapes through organic means. Plus, as a relatively small region, it’s hard to charge prices that would support organic farming.

He uses his vineyards as a sort of demonstration to local growers that there are plenty of things they can do to have a lesser impact on the planet. That includes less frequent spraying, the use of biological alternatives to conventional sprays (such as an insecticide made with giant knotweed extract) and building soil health through compost and cover crops.

“If you use certain methods of organics and biodynamics, you need to go into the vineyards a lot,” he says. Some of these required sprays must be applied with more frequency than their conventional counterparts.

“That leads to greater soil compaction and more carbon emissions from tractors,” he says. “That’s why we’re focused on how we can create a system that enables us to have good prices and farm in a way that is good for the earth.”

Sunflower blooming in compost at Forge Cellars
A sunflower blooming in compost at Forge Cellars / Photo by Forge Cellars

In addition to farming practices, Slow Wine highlights producers focused on the craft of making fine wine.

“To me, Slow Wine is about respect for the work and a lack of industrial inputs,” says Rainey. “It’s about the hands-on artistry of the work. We still make wine that way. We’ll use machine pickers when it’s necessary, but we prefer hand picking. We still sort grapes by hand. We load the press by hand and do very slow pressing. We still manage every barrel individually.”

Many of the participating wineries think about social sustainability as much as environmental sustainability. (Although this is not something verified by Slow Wine contributors.)

Ben Casteel, co-owner and winemaker at Bethel Heights Vineyards in Oregon’s Eola-Amity Hills, says all the company’s employees, including the work crew it shares with two other vineyards, receive full health benefits.

The tasting room at Wilridge Vineyard, Winery & Distillery
The tasting room at Wilridge Vineyard, Winery & Distillery / Photo by Juliann Itter

“We’ve had the same crew since I was a kid,” he says. “I’ve grown up around a lot of these people. It’s very important for us that our workers feel taken care of and are paid a living wage.”

Casteel’s father was a co-founder of the ¡Salud! program, which provides preventative health care to seasonal farmworkers without health insurance.

Like Beveridge, Rosemary Cakebread of Gallica in Napa is a long-time fan of the Slow Food movement. She was honored to be selected for the guide, not just for recognition as a winemaker, but also as a great steward of the land.

“We practice organic farming and are responsible users of water,” she says. “We do things simply. I think we all, whether it’s in farming or in our personal lives, have a responsibility to be as sensitive to the environment as possible. More is not necessarily better. Sometimes less is more.”

Published on September 29, 2020