Why do we drink wine? Usually, because it tastes good. It’s also relaxing, pleasurable and a social lubricant. It’s rarely because of our health, which makes the more recent phenomenon of wine as part of health and wellness practices somewhat baffling (although it’s admittedly not entirely out of line with America’s historically complicated relationship with alcohol).
Today, the wine industry is awash with back-label buzzwords and gimmicks that promise a wine will be “simple,” vegan, low in calories or sulfites, or free from toxic chemicals. The recently invented “clean” wine positioning has commercialized the natural wine category by repackaging it for supermarket shelves as hygienic. They tell us we should drink better.
They’re right about the last part. Except these wines don’t necessarily equal drinking better.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with them. But if you really want to drink better, drink conscientiously instead.
Support local businesses by shopping at independent wine stores that offer a diverse selection of wines. Seek out a shop with a knowledgeable staff you can easily speak with and who will get to know your palate and wine-purchase preferences in turn.
Do a bit of research, including reviewing winery websites and published articles from reputable sources, to identify and enjoy wines from small- to medium-sized owned-and-operated producers who farm organically, biodynamically or, at the very least, sustainably.
Natural wine, a category that has been thriving in the U.S. for over 20 years, can equal low sulfur levels and a high likelihood the wine is vegan due to minimal winemaking. However, not all natural wines are created equal.
Focus less on the category the wine may have been lumped into and more on the producer’s level of involvement on the ground—literally. Family-run estates with generations of experience on one parcel of land tend to farm for the long term and make wine traditionally. Other small producers may hold long-term leases on vineyards, which still tends to mean blood, sweat and tears were spilled over those vines.
Their business models are worlds away from bulk brands that are often made by an outside winery or contract winemaking facility from purchased fruit, and where key decision makers have little physical investment in the land, people and culture.
Seek out wineries committed to fair and ethical business practices as well as environmental impact. Look for those certified as “B Corporations” like Sokol Blosser and A to Z in the U.S., Château Maris in France, Symington in Portugal and Unico Zelo in Australia.
If your local shop is limited, look toward new socially responsible online retailers that are cropping up, like Wine + Peace, a site that allows you to search wines by values like community or environment.
Imagine if the service and worth of all wines were determined by our values. Oh, what a wonderful wine world that would be.
This article originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!