Winemakers around the world are waking up to the fact that natural farming practices produce healthier vineyards. More and more are opting for non-chemical techniques like rotating cover crops and hand hoeing weeds. Yet producers typically don't try to sell their wines as eco-friendly: Few labels say organic, Demeter (a term common in Europe) or biodynamic (the name of a serious-minded approach utilizing New Age-type methods that are gentle to the earth, such as farming according to the phases of the moon).
Are Eco-friendly Wines Better? You'd be hard-pressed to distinguish sustainably produced wines by taste. But it's reasonable to assume that a winemaker who devotes extra labor and expense to environmentally sound practices will turn out an honest wine.
10 Top Bottles
2002 Dr. Bürklin-Wolf Bürklin Estate Riesling ($18) This 16th-century winerythe largest family-owned estate in Germanyhas proven it can change with the times, converting to biodynamics in 2001. Its dry Riesling is soft and luscious.
2002 Nikolaihof Hefeabzug Grüner Veltliner ($26) Founded in 985, Austria's oldest winery is strictly biodynamic. One result is this crisp, dry white, with a plump texture and lovely fruit.
2002 Origin Napa Gamble Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($25) Winery partners Bill Davies and Tom Gamble are Napa Valley aristocrats who are committed to sustainable agriculture. This vibrant white is equally aristocratic.
2001 Iron Horse Estate Chardonnay ($25) This family-owned winery, located (fittingly enough) in Sonoma's Green Valley, practices a labor-intensive version of natural farming. Its Chardonnay is rich but graceful, packed with vivid tropical fruit.
Larmandier-Bernier Terre de Vertus Champagne ($49) Pierre Larmandier is a Champagne maverick and the region's rare organic winemaker. So crisp it's energizing, this is one of the driest Champagnes you'll ever love.
2001 Brick House Cuvee du Tonnelier Pinot Noir ($45) In Oregon's Willamette Valley, Doug Tunnell is one of the few winemakers who puts organic on his label. This Pinot is elegant, firm-bodied and beautifully aromatic.
2001 M. Chapoutier Belleruche Rouge Côtes-du-Rhône ($14) In the shadow of the Hermitage hill, this 200-year-old winery began converting to biodynamics when Michel Chapoutier took over in 1990. His Grenache-Syrah blend is juicy and tangy.
2000 Benziger Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($42) This well-known Sonoma family winery, now being farmed biodynamically, has turned out a smooth, mouth-filling, deeply colored Cabernet.
2000 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel ($35) A sort of transatlantic Châteauneuf-du-Pape, this fruit-focused California red is a joint effort of American importer Robert Haas and France's Château de Beaucastel.
2001 Clos de la Coulée de Serrant ($84) Loire winemaker Nicolas Joly was a pioneer in biodynamics in1980 and is still one of the movement's leading figures. His 100 percent old-vine Chenin Blanc is one of the world's most distinctive wines.