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Green wines: as the eco-friendly movement continues to take root, bars and restaurants across the country are offering many more green wine options.

As more and more consumers are concerned with how and from where food gets on their plate, it's no surprise that they are increasingly looking for green versions of their favorite wines. Beverage managers across the country agree that the green wine movement has gone mainstream. "Consumers themselves are more savvy--not just in wine, but about organic practices across the board," says Joe Taber, director of restaurants at the 226-room Fairmont Sonoma. "The wine industry is just one more place you have an opportunity to go into it."

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But green wine can be something of an obscure term used to describe a variety of winemaking practices. It encompasses organic, sustainable, biodynamic and often local wines.

"Green is a loose term--unfortunately," says Taber. He notes that there two aspects to consider: the farming practices and the winemaking. "Often wines are made with fruit grown using organic farming practices, but the winemaking isn't always organic."

"There's no doubt that more people are asking for green wines now than, say, five years ago," says Gary Fisch, owner of the three-location Gary's Wine & Marketplace in Wayne, New Jersey.

GOOD FOR YOU AND THE EARTH

Consumer demand for green wines stems from the overall green movement. "A lot of consumers are more aware of what goes into their food and beverages today," says Fisch. "Their own health is a concern, definitely, but so is sustaining the environment so we can keep making good wine in the future."

"It's all about perception," explains Taber. "If you are thinking about the farming practices, there is a perceived value that things are cleaner and healthier."

Even some chains are taking note. People seem to be really interested in the environmental impact," says Mary Melton, director of beverage at the P.F. Chang's, the Scottsdale, Arizona-based chain, which runs some 190 restaurants that include P.F. Chang's China Bistro and Pei Wei Asian Dinner.

J. Earley, bartender at Zely and Ritz in Raleigh, North Carolina, concurs. "People care about the world around them," he says. "Wine is something that comes from the earth."

Consumers are often persuaded by the story of these wines and their journey to the table. "Any wines that have a story, people gravitate toward," says Bradley Moore, corporate director of food and beverage operations at Arlington, Virginia-based Interstate Hotels & Resorts. "People care about where their food is from and how the wine is made."

At the 225-location Interstate Hotels & Resorts, the green movement took hold as part of a "Fresh and Honest" promotion, launched in 2008, that featured green beverages. The brand has had success with green wines from Bonterra Vineyards, MacMurray Ranch, Chateau St. Jean and Jacob's Creek.

FARM FOCUSED

With so many options to choose from it seems that the main focus for many wine managers and consumers is how the grapes are grown. "For now we are happy with sustainably farmed fruit," says Melton. P.P. Chang's recently launched a private label wine sold under the Vineyard 518 label, which is packaged in a 10-liter recyclable container. "We are focused more on the waste part. Using less gas--our boxes with wine weigh half as much as a case of wine in bottles--so less carbon footprint and the boxes are made from recycled material." Other popular green wines at P.P. Chang's are from Paul Dolan, Frog's Leap and Crigh Hills, all priced "just above entry level," notes Melton.

At one-location Biodivino Wine Boutique in San Francisco, according to owner Ceri Smith, 98-percent of the store's some 400 wines are organic or biodynamic, with prices ranging from $15 to $400 a bottle. "The practice of sustainable organic or biodynamic wine making starts in the field, eliminating pesticides and chemicals and moves forward to the actual wine making cutting out the use of selected yeasts, colorings, flavorings etc.," says Smith.

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Organic was part of the original mission at Zely and Ritz, which sources the majority of its food from a partner farm that utilized organic farming practices, but like many wineries doesn't have USDA certification. "Ultimately, we would love to have a wine list entirely made of sustainable or biodynamic wines," says Earley. About 25 to 30 percent of the wine list at Zely and Ritz consists of certified sustainable, organic or biodynamic, including some favorites like J. Hoffstatter Pinot Grigio ($38, $9) and Domaine Constant-Duquesnoy Vinsobres ($47, $10).

At Cafe Boa in Tempe, Arizona and Boa Bistro in Mesa, owner Jay Wisniewski has found success with "natural" wines. "In our opinion, buying organic makes you feel better," he says. Though these wines may be a hard sell due to their rough-around-the edges tastes, Wisniewski is committed to the cause. "When you start talking about natural wines, they have an unfiltered, hoppy and beer-like quality," he explains. "Our servers need to be aware of these characteristics when people ask about them."

GREEN MARKETING

Off-premise retailers find it important to note green wines for consumers. At Gary's Wine, "we have a dedicated 'Gary's Green Selections' tag that calls out wines that we know to be produced with a variety of 'green practices,'" explains Fisch. "It's just one more way to inform the consumer and let them make an educated decision."

Top green wines at Gary's come from Benzinger ($14.99 for the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc to $29-99 for the 2006 Pinot Noir) and Montiniore ($14.99 for the 2009 Pinot Gris to $19.99 for the 2008 Pinot Noir).

A similar scene exists at Gnarly Wines wine store in Brooklyn. "We try to convey which wines are SOB (sustainable, organic or biodynamic) but that takes a lot of time," says owner Brian Robinson. His top green wines are Luzon Verde Monastrell ($10) and Domaine de Montvac Cotes-du-Rhone ($15).

On-premise things are often even less defined. At some operations, green wines are clearly labeled on the menu. For others, however, green wines are more of a hand sell. At Cafe Boa, the green wines are clearly marked as biodynamic, organic or natural. "Five or six years ago, we started starring the biodynamic wines and people were buying based on that," says Wisniewski. Of the 550 wines offered, some 50 wines are labeled with some green designation, including Geyerhof "Rosensteig" Gruner Veltliner for $46 a bottle and Bethel Heights Estate Pinot Noir for $50.

At the Fairmont Sonoma, servers play a huge role in selling green wines. "Our green focus has to do with the staff," says Taber. "Our guests come in and ask about these wines because of [our] location [in wine country]." Top green wines at the Fairirmont come from Benzinger, Deerfield Ranch and Robert Sinskey

The hotel partners with local wineries to offer winemaker dinners to guests. The winemaker from a partner winery--Benzinger and Deerfield Ranch--hosts a dinner with paired wines.

At Interstate Hotels & Resorts, the green wines were originally marked on the menu, but that has since changed. "Wine directors asked us to make these a hand sell, says Bradley Moore, corporate director of food and beverage operations. "They all asked to tell the story tableside instead of calling it out on the list."

Higher prices have often been a barrier to entry for green wines, but the down economy coupled with more green options available have led to some more reasonably priced options. "Price is always going be an issue at some level," says Taber. "Prices are down across the board for all wineries. It's easier to find organic wines now. There were many wineries that were using sustainable and organic practices, but never got the certification. They are now."

With more options to choose from and some more reasonably priced options, green wines will continue to pique the attention of the eco-conscious consumer. And as Moore says, "It's contagious--the media is beating the green drum and everyone is going to start dancing to it."

Michelle Paolillo Lockett is a food and wine writer based near New York.
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Author:Lockett, Michelle Paolillo
Publication:StateWays
Date:Nov 1, 2010
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