Pinot Now

Radical Wine Thought

Category: Making Wine

Convert Your Front Yard Into a Vineyard

I have 20 Pinot Noir vines growing in my front yard. Actually, instead of my front yard.

Convert your front yard into a vineyard

Better than grass: Pinot Noir growing in my front yard.

When I bought my home, it had a front yard full of grass that was kept alive by a sprinkler system and  regular watering. The problem with grass is that you can’t drink it. Well, okay, you can. And I’m not saying wheatgrass juice is disgusting, I’m just saying it triggers an uncontrollable gag reflex in me.

The point is that your typical lawn is not meant for, nor would it be very good for consumption. Yet it tends to take up a lot of land. Sometimes acres. When I bought my house it became a mystery why someone would spend so much money buying land, and then spend more money to water and upkeep a lawn, usually by running some gas-burning lawn mower. A lawn is something that only takes from your wallet and the environment and never gives anything back.

Maybe because I value the earth, maybe because I see real estate as an investment that should produce returns, maybe because after renting landless apartments for years all I wanted was a patch of dirt to grow something edible on, to know where my food came from, to decrease the carbon footprint from importing and shipping, to not conform to some wasteful standard of property usage that came from a tradition of thoughtless suburbanizing, for the health of myself and the world, and for sure with inspiration from people like Ron Finley and Julie Bass… for so many reasons I see so much more potential to land than a yawn, I mean lawn.

So I ripped out my grass and put in a vineyard. And not just any vineyard. These vines are the clone descendants of  Grand Cru vines from around Vosne Romanee… the mothership and ground zero for all things Pinot Noir. The crazy thing? You can easily get some for your front yard too.

If you haven’t heard of Foundation Plant Services then you haven’t heard of the Library of Congress for grapes. FPS is, to my knowledge, the largest living library of grapevines in the world. There’s nothing like it. They catalog and cultivate samples of every variety of known grape that they can get their hands on, and some that they can’t. When I die I hope to go to FPS, not heaven.

AND…. AND…. you can buy pretty much any of the vines in the library!!  And they can ship them to you! (I know that’s a lot of exclamation points, but FPS is totally deserving.) And you can grow them right there in your front yard where all that useless grass is wasting space.

What could happen if you and your neighbors started growing grapes instead of grass? Imagine a neighborhood wine co-op where grapes and wine are shared and exchanged and tasted. Imagine your suburb becoming an AVA. Imagine your world transformed into a garden.

Okay, before I fully begin channeling John Lennon, let me just wrap this up by saying that future posts will give the how-to, step-by-step for growing and making wine from your front yard.

Wine Ingredients – The PinotNow Revolution Begins

wine additives

What’s in my wine?

If you’ve purchased and drunk wine from a grocery store, liquor store, or your local 7-11 any time in the past decade, you have consumed (almost without a doubt) something called Mega Purple.

The name Mega Purple conjures a large, fun-loving, violet-furred creature that has its own Saturday morning cartoon. But the real Mega Purple is a common additive in commercially mass-produced red wine that darkens and sweetens it , and is likely a big part of the current trend in big, dark red blends with gothic packaging and names like “Authentic Black” and “Midnight Crush” and other such nonsense that sound like the emissions of a BET Harlequin comingling.

Wait, “additive?” you ask. Isn’t wine just fermented grapes? Uh, nope.

Here’s a link to the list of over 60 chemicals that can be added to wine without informing the consumer.

There are many reasons to add things to fermenting grape juice to improve the flavor of the resulting wine. In addition to the yeasts and bacteria that are added to ferment the juice you can add yeast food (which contains things like diammonium phosphate). And then there are special enzymes that help break down the skins to extract more color and flavor. And of course there’s sulfites (potassium meta bi-sulfite, for example), which is put in every wine except for organic wines. There are fining ingredients like clay (bentonite) and egg whites (yes, egg whites). And then there are the really weird things, like Mega Purple (a concentrate made from Rubired, a teinturier grape*).

What if you come up with some great new wine additive but it’s not on the list of 60+ approved wine additives (like MegaPurple)? No problem. Here’s a link to the simple process for getting a new additive approved. The only problem? There’s no simple process for making us consumers aware that a new additive has been approved… and added to our wine!

To be fair, a lot of the additives are pretty much harmless. But some are not. Copper sulfate for example is something often added to wine when it develops too much hydrogen sulfide (H2S).

H2S is the gas responsible for that rotten egg smell that you might have detected if you’ve ever encountered a ruptured sewage pipe… or rotten eggs… or an “off” wine. H2S is flammable and toxic and just gross, and most humans can smell it in very small quantities. Like under 10 parts per billion. And yeast produce it under certain circumstances. So you can see how it’s problematic for wine makers. No one wants to drink a wine that smells like sewage.

Copper sulfate is one way to deal with this problem because it bonds to H2S and then can be filtered out of the wine. The problem is that it’s also moderately toxic. It’s a lesser of two evils. And when a million dollar batch of wine is at stake, it’s clear why you’d be willing to dabble in a little evil.

What’s not clear is why the FDA doesn’t require this information on a bottle of wine!

Ironically the two ingredients that are required to be listed on a wine label are the least surprising – alcohol and sulfites. Thanks, ATB! Could you also require that sinks be labeled to show that they dispense water? That would be equally informative.

There is no good reason that wine producers aren’t required to list ALL the ingredients that they add to their wine. There may be several bad reasons, I’ll admit. But I hope that mine will be one of many voices that lead to a change.

We want to know that our wine contains diammonium phosphate just as much as we want to know that our ice cream contains guar gum. I will lead us to research those ingredients and make better choices as consumers about what we want to put in our bodies, along with our alcohol and sulfites. It will expose wine producers who “cheat” nature with additives like MegaPurple. Some of us might not care, but others of us may realize that this is why there can be a “sameness” to many mass produced wines, and it may lead us to seek out producers who put as little into their wine as possible and still get great, interesting results.

Knowing what is in our wine won’t kill wine sales. But it might sting a little. And that’s because a change is needed. We can’t value organic, local food at the same time that we buy wine without knowing what’s been added to it.

To all wine producers: I’m calling you out. If you have nothing to hide, prove it. List every single ingredient that goes into your wine on every bottle that you sell.

* a teinturier grape is a grape whose both skin AND juice is red. Most grapes have clear-ish juice which reddens because of contact with the crushed skins. More about this in another article.



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