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Recently, the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission announced that it wants every single vineyard and winery under its purview to be certified sustainable within the next five years. There's some question what the method of enforcement will be—since the program is voluntary, running over refusenik farmers with tractors or bunging them into big tanks of bad juice and laughing at them as they splash around helplessly is probably right out. But the whole plan's a noble goal, and would make Sonoma the first wine region in the country to hit that target.
What sustainable means is another question. Essentially, it's an approach to farming (and winemaking) that uses economically feasible, environmentally sound and socially equitable methods. That, obviously, covers a lot of ground—but generally speaking what the goal includes is reducing water and energy use, minimizing pesticide use, recycling natural resources, maintaining wildlife habitats, providing employee education and other strategies. Given there are over 1,800 vineyards in Sonoma County, some 1,500 individual growers and/or owners and more than 59,000 acres of vineyard land in the county—according to the estimable Karissa Kruse, president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers—it's an ambitious project. But it's also an impressive one. And until every last renegade vine is on board, here's a quartet of sustainably produced Sonoma wines to tide you over.
2011 Benziger Sonoma County Chardonnay ($15)
Ripe tropical fruit notes characterize this aromatic white. Benziger uses strategies such as integrated pest management (IPM)—including using beneficial insects to eat target pests—and various others in its vineyards.
2012 Rodney Strong Charlotte's Home Sauvignon Blanc ($17)
A touch of French oak barrel fermentation gives this lemon-scented white a little extra richness on the palate. Rodney Strong not only farms sustainably, but was also the first carbon-neutral winery in Sonoma.
2010 Ravenswood Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel ($18)
Ravenswood derives 100 percent of its power from solar energy, among several other sustainable practices. Winemaker Joel Peterson uses fruit from older vineyards (some up to 100-plus years old) scattered throughout Sonoma Valley and Dry Creek Valley for this spicy, full-bodied red.
J Cuvée 20 Brut NV ($28)
Another carbon-neutral winery, J also follows practices such as using ultraviolet light and ozone—rather than chlorine—to sterilize water. The crisp Cuvée 20 Brut NV (nonvintage), which uses the classic Champagne grapes varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, is its most affordable sparkling wine.