Q: For all of us who like to drink, is there any earth-friendly beer or wine out there?
A: What would summer be without a nice cold beer or a chilled glass of wine to both cool us and wind us down in one sweet gulp? As barbecue season gets going and the booze starts flowing, any earthy considerations tend to get checked at the fence. Where are you going to find eco-conscious booze anyway, right? Well, fortunately for all you greenies out there, new options keep pouring in.
Yes, back in the days when grapes were crushed between busy little toes, natural wine was the only way to go. Alas, the chemical industry converted wine growers, just like other farmers. Pesticides, herbicides and fungicides are the order of the day, sprayed over vineyards to keep various bugs, weeds and moulds at bay. In fact, grapes are one of the most heavily sprayed crops around, soaking up half the total fungicides used in agriculture. A few growers have even turned to genetically modified grapes. But fear not, wine lovers, organic wines abound. The LCBO carries well over half a dozen organic labels, including California-based Fetzer (a range of reds or whites for $10.95 to $19.95), one of the largest certified organic wineries in the world. Several other brands, like France's Château de Caraguilhes or Italy's Fasoli Gino are also available, from $13.
Even organic wineries often use sulfites, a preservative both naturally present, thanks to the fermentation process, and further added to wine to prevent it from spoiling. It's an allergen that can cause serious headaches in some (note: white wine has more sulfites than red), and organic wines have strict standards in terms of the quantity of sulfites they can use. Frog Pond Farms, the only certified organic winemaker in Ontario (available for $12 to $16 plus shipping by calling 905-468-1079), says it uses so little of the stuff that even most headache sufferers are able to drink their product without any problem.
Some of the wines we came across might not be organic but, like Australia's Banrock Station, (from $8.95) give back to the good earth they came from. Through its wetlands foundation, Banrock funds wildlife and wetland projects in Canada - and pretty much every country in which it's sold, for that matter.
The Wine Council of Ontario is starting a program to encourage best environmental practices at the province's wineries. Some labels have already gotten a head start, like Vineland Estates and Eastdell Estates (from $10.95).
Up to making your own vino? Fermentations on the Danforth and on Mount Pleasant sells organic grapes during the harvest season (September) and generally tries to minimize its use of sulfites (26 bottles range from $135 to $150). Feast of Fields will ship you a bucket of biodynamic, certified-organic juice (www. feast-of-fields.ca, $65 to $100), which yields about 25 bottles.
Now for all you beer fans out there. Sadly, the selection isn't quite so broad. Mill Street Brewery's Original Organic Lager ($9.50/six at the LCBO) is really your only bet. Many microbreweries like Muskoka and Black Oak (both $11.45/six at the LCBO) say their beer's better for you and the world because it's made with "all natural ingredients," unpasteurized and also preservative- and additive-free, and they ship spent grain to farmers rather than ditching it. Steam Whistle ($11.95/six) avoids killing trees by steering clear of labels, and uses an eco-conscious cooling system that draws from deep within Lake Ontario. Is it nice to support the little guy over the behemoth beer giants? Probably. Are microbrewers using organic or GM-free ingredients? Well, no less than the big boys.
Heineken is the only company we came across that says it's against genetically altered ingredients. But the Brewers of Canada tell us hops and barley are never genetically modified anyway. Wheat and corn (corn syrup is used in the mainstream fermentation process), of course, are a different story.
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