From Good Wine, a Direct Path to the Wonders of Nature

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Contemporary orchards are another example, as Mr. Brennan, the cider maker, detailed in his 2019 book, “Uncultivated: Wild Apples, Real Cider and the Complicated Art of Making a Living.” In an effort to maximize yields and minimize labor, humans have turned to dwarf trees and clonal rootstocks that cannot even stand up on their own, and survive only with intensive chemical spraying.

When you begin to examine the sources of your foods and wines, and you become aware of the compromises made almost entirely for commercial purposes, you begin to analyze more closely what exactly is in your glass and on your plate.

Many people understand with one bite the difference between a commercial tomato and one grown locally and sold at a farmers’ market. We can easily taste the depth of flavor in a farm egg that is absent from commercial supermarket eggs. Why would anybody doubt that a wine produced carefully from conscientiously grown grapes would be superior to bottles of processed wine made from industrially farmed grapes?

If you’ve walked a chemically farmed vineyard, no matter how neatly it’s manicured or how pretty the bordering roses might be, you cannot help but be horrified by the gray, lifeless soil underfoot. Contrast that with the bountiful vineyards of Ms. Casteel or Ms. Heekin, which are part of healthy ecosystems. They appeal to all the senses, from the sounds and sights of birds and insects to the smell of life to the soft give of the soil beneath your feet. You can certainly taste that sort of vineyard in the wine.

This is not to say that traditional practices are always best in agriculture. Advocates for regenerative agriculture, a way of farming that emphasizes building and supporting the organic matter that composes healthy soils, are dead set against age-old practices like plowing and tilling. These techniques not only disrupt the life of the soil, they say, but also release carbon to the atmosphere that otherwise could have been stored safely in the earth, mitigating climate change.

The aroma on a fall or winter day of old, discarded vines being burned, another traditional practice, can be pleasant, until you realize it’s another disastrous release of carbon into the atmosphere.

It’s easy to write about wine without any sort of awareness of nature. You can sit at a table tasting hundreds of wines, without a thought to where they came from, beyond a bottle.

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