These days, who doesn’t want to do more to help the environment? That certainly includes vineyards and wineries, which are touting everything from alternative energy sources to power their production facilities to recyclable shipping and packing materials to a growing movement toward organic growing techniques that liberate vineyards from pesticides and other chemicals.
Adding “green” to red and white has also become a powerful marketing tool — a way for one winemaker to distinguish his sauvignon blanc, let’s say, from the one made by the guy down the road.
As admirable as these efforts are, it boils down, of course, to what’s in the bottle and whether you enjoy the wine. Alas, there are forgettable organic wines as well. Fortunately, that’s not the case with a superb new sauvignon blanc that came my way from California recently.
It’s from Sterling Vineyards, a large and familiar Napa Valley-based brand that has just released its first wines “made with organic grapes,” as the labels put it. Those grapes come from Mendocino County on the North Coast above Sonoma County.
The region has become known as a hub of organic winemaking and for the sauvignon blanc, Sterling sources grapes from the Guinness McFadden Vineyard in Mendocino’s Potter Valley. If you’ve never heard of Guinness McFadden (I hadn’t), that’s because until 2003 the vineyard sold all of its fruit to well-known California wineries, including Mondavi, Beringer, Sterling and Fetzer. It now makes small quantities of its own wines as well.
To put things in perspective, Guinness McFadden, named after the native New Yorker who founded it in 1970 and still runs it, has been growing organic fruit in relative obscurity for 38 years. Sterling, it is fair to say, is among those finally jumping on the organic bandwagon, and doing so with all its marketing muscle (it is owned by the giant Diageo group).
In any event, as I noted above, the 2007 sauvignon blanc is first-rate, and it is just the latest example of excellent Mendocino sauvignon I have tasted recently. (Paul Dolan and Patianna are others to look for.)
As I glanced back at my notes on the Sterling wine, they said it all: “Mouthwatering; very long finish; expressive; notes of grapefruit, tropical fruit, vanilla, lemon-line; big value for $13.” This is one of those wines that just keep on enticing you back for another sip. Made without oak, it will match well with fish, shellfish and simple chicken dishes and is delicious on its own. (Unfortunately, Sterling’s other new organic release, a Mendocino chardonnay, is less distinguished, at least in this first vintage, so I would skip that one.)
Be sure not to confuse the new organic sauvignon with Sterling’s regular Napa Valley sauvignon, which I have not tasted. The organic label is white with a block of little green squares and a ladybug, which is used in organic farming to kill some pests.
By the way, I was happy, as I always am, to see that the wine was shipped in all-cardboard packaging, which should be the standard for the industry. Unfortunately, some wineries still use Styrofoam, an annoying throwback that is difficult to recycle and can break apart in transit, covering wine bottles with tiny pieces of the stuff that take some effort to get off. That’s the last thing you want to be doing as you anticipate opening what could be that next great bottle of wine.
Edward Deitch is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at