‘There has been a lot of talk about this next song. Maybe … maybe too much talk.’– Bono at Red Rocks, Under a Blood Red Sky Tour, 1983

Anyone old enough to remember Bono’s iconic introduction of the band’s early-80’s anthem also has the perspective necessary to appreciate the sea change in American consumption habits over the past 40 years. Afterall, at the time U-2 was commemorating the horrors of Bloody Sunday the USDA was proposing that ketchup be recognized as a vegetable for purposes of American school lunch programs.

And although our attitudes towards healthful consumption have indeed evolved since that time, within alcohol beverage ideas around better-for-you consumption appear still to be stuck in a 1980’s time warp.

There has been a lot of talk about “Better for You” in wine. Frankly maybe a little too much talk. As an advocate for sustainability, as a small business owner, and as a wine professional my attitude is that it is time for action. While Big Wine has sought to contain the meaning of the movement to low sugar (any dry wine by definition is low in sugar) the potential for this movement is BIGGER than just low-sugar, and the stakes are far higher. We are at such a pivotal point in our societal awakening to not recognize that we are selling this opportunity short.

I own and operate a small wine shop and specialty food store in Boulder, Colorado. Given our proximity to a major research university and the highly engaged citizens who make up my clientele, learning what better for you can and should mean in wine has been both a pleasure and necessity. In my view there are a few key metrics that retailers and retaurateurs should consider in building a better-for-you category.

  1. Purity – it has been said that sometimes it is less important what you DO put in your body that what you DON’T put it in your body. While sugar is a very important piece of the purity picture, at least inasmuch as consumers are seeking out dry wines, other attributes of purity such as freedom from pesticides are arguably more important. Wineries have the power to remove or reduce industrial contaminants from their products through practices such as working with certified organic vineyards and by limiting the sort of synthetic additives they make into their wines in the cellar. Clean Label Project also offers a Certified Pesticide Free certification. As of this writing IBG Wines’ Lifevine brand and Albertson’s O Organics platform are the only brands currently to carry this certification.
  2. Transparency – making healthful choices should be a fundamental exercise in individual freedom and responsibility. However, as Rob McMillan has pointed out in his annual report SVB on Wine the wine industry has not been a leader in such simple steps in consumer transparency as serving facts panels and ingredient labeling. Ridge winery has long been a leader in this regard, having included ingredients on their back panel for more than 20 years.
  3. Sustainability – in the end nothing is more impactful to our individual health than the health of the planet and our ecosystem. Retailers who care about better-for-you should select for wineries that are vertically integrated and that place sustainability at the center of business.

Because these issues are so important to me, I choose to support our progressive brands in my store. I like to work with wineries that are willing to push the boundaries to craft sustainable, better-for-you brands. At the Boulder Wine Merchant we champion in small progressive brands that are committed to changing the world for the better. We support female and minority-owned brands and foster the same expectation of diversity and inclusivity on our retail shelves as we do within our team member roster. There is no better time than the present.

Here are a few of the brands and producers I have been following lately:

1) Cono Sur in Chile – An award-winning carbon neutral winery, farming 300 ha of organic vineyards and producing great wines at value prices.

2) Benzinger – This winery has been a leader in the industry for biodiversity, solar, water conservation, and other sustainable strategies. 

3) Long Meadow Ranch – An outstanding winery that is focused on a full-cycle organic approach the farming and wine production. 

4) Hiyu wine farm in Oregon is a pretty awesome example of a winery, farm, and restaurant working as one organic unit and producing amazing food and wine in the process. 

5) Duck Pond Cellars in Oregon – received certified USDA organic status for its winery in Dundee, Oregon.  The first commercially farmed vineyards in Oregon to remove the use of glyphosate (pesticide) in the farming process and have received the Clean Label Project Purity Award.

Join me in changing the world for the better one glass at a time.