Wine from Organically Grown Grapes: It’s More Affordable than You Think

Label Collage
Organic grapes, no oak, about $11. Great QPR and highly enjoyable!

These days we’re all a little smarter when it comes to buying produce, meat, and fish. In general, we want to know where it came from, how it was raised, and whether it was produced using sustainable methods. We seek an understanding of how our food choices impact global issues such as climate change, overfishing, and water conservation. In many cases we’re willing to pony up a few extra dollars for ingredients with a known pedigree, and we feel like we’re contributing to the greater good.

But, as consumer demand for sustainably-farmed products grows, more farmers realize it’s a long-term shift they’re willing to make. That means more choices in the market, and a gradual normalization of prices: we end up with better options to choose from, without feeling too much of a pinch on our wallets.

The same is true with wine.

As with other responsibly farmed agricultural products, consumer demand for eco-friendly wines has been ticking upward. Yes, becoming certified-organic is time-consuming and, depending on the starting point, potentially expensive. But that doesn’t mean that all such wines carry higher price tags.

In fact, Bonterra Wines has been making affordable, high-quality wines from organic grapes for years. (Click here to read my post about their portfolio.)

And, thanks to Winesellers, Ltd., I recently had the opportunity to taste three wines from Santa Julia Organica in Argentina, an off-shoot of the famous Zuccardi family named for José’s only daughter, Julia. The vineyards have been farmed organically since 2001 and, at about $11 retail, the wines are an affordable everyday treat. Another bonus? Santa Julia Organica wines are widely distributed and thus widely available.

Note: I received these wines as media samples; all notes, thoughts, and opinions are my own.

About Santa Julia Organica

Founded in 1990, Santa Julia has always championed the diversity of Mendoza, Argentina and its wide range of vineyard sites, soil types, and elevations. With such variety in the terroir, it’s not surprising to learn that many different grapes are grown: the usual suspects like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, and Chardonnay, as well as less-expected varieties like Viognier and Pinot Grigio.

fincas-santa-julia-maipu-2
Santa Julia Organica vineyards in Maipú. (photo: Santa Julia Organica)

The Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec wines that I tasted came from Maipú, about 40 kms outside of Mendoza. Santa Julia farms 180 hectares lying at about 2,000 feet above sea level. The Chardonnay grew in Santa Rosa, on 475 hectares of vineyards at about the same altitude.

Sustainability – A Core Philosophy

Respect for the environment underlies every process at Santa Julia:

  • 100% of water used in vinification is recycled;
  • Organic waste products are composted and reutilized;
  • All plastic, glass, and cardboard are recycled;
  • Earthworms are used to enrich the humus component of the soil;
  • Each section of the winery has its own, green energy source, allowing for selective utilization and conservation;
  • 100 acres of natural forest surround the property, fostering biodiversity.
fincas-santa-julia-maipu-4
Now that’s a lot of . . . compost! (photo: Santa Julia Organica)

Social Responsibility – Caring for the Community

Santa Julia makes wine with care, balancing the winery’s needs with those of the environment. But that philosophy extends beyond the vineyard rows to the local community, where many of the workers live. The Zuccardi family has launched several initiatives to improve daily life and offer more opportunities to the winery’s neighbors:

  • Santa Julia Educates has built a primary school in Maipú and a learning center for adults and children in Santa Rosa.
  • Project Good Harvest actively fights against illegal child labor and organizes social events specifically for children in the community.
  • Santa Rosa Cultural Center serves as a local hang-out, with a gym/rec center, access to computers and training, and a community library.
  • Fair for Life, a certification which establishes strict guidelines for fair treatment of workers, ensures that a percentage of the purchase price of each bottle goes back to the workers who helped make it. (Santa Julia was the first winery in Mendoza to achieve this certification.)

Tasting Notes

Chardonnay and Roast Chicken
Roast chicken and Chardonnay – one of my favorite Sunday night combos.

2018 Santa Julia Organica Chardonnay (13% abv; about $11 retail)

100% Chardonnay from the Santa Rosa vineyards in Mendoza. This wine was fermented in stainless-steel tanks and saw no oak treatment whatsoever.

Color: Pale lemon-green, fading to clear at the rim.

Nose: Medium intensity aromas of apple and pear, accented by tangy lime zest and a faint floral note. After opening for an hour, there are notes of unripe peach and just a hint of pineapple.

Palate: Tart flavors of apple, pear, and citrus pith, with medium+ acidity and body. On the long finish there are notes of bitter orange and pineapple. There’s a whisper of sweetness there too, but no more than that.

Pairing: I love a good Chardonnay with roast chicken, and this wine filled the bill. Really hard to argue with such an agreeable wine made from organic grapes at this price point. Perfect for a weeknight meal.

Malbec Bottle and Glass
Silky, smooth Malbec doesn’t need food but plays well with many dishes.

2017 Santa Julia Organica Malbec (13.5% abv; about $11 retail)

100% Malbec macerated on the skins for 10 days and fermented in stainless steel. As with the Chardonnay, there was no oak influence.

Color: This wine is Purple – with a capital P! Deep and velvety purple all the way to the edge.

Nose: Medium intensity aromas of black cherry and plum – soft and sweet smelling; with a little time, there is raisin and ripe fig.

Palate: My first sip is all cherry-berry red fruit – almost like a cherry cough drop on the finish. At the back of my throat I get a floral sensation. Tannins are soft and smooth, balanced by medium acidity and body. This goes down easy – it’s like a warm hug at the end of a long day.

Pepper and Sausage Bake
Spicy sausage and pepper bake was perfect with the Malbec.

Pairing: Sheet pan dinner of mixed peppers and sausage. The smooth Malbec tamed the spice in the sausage and peppers, bringing out the sweetness of each. Yum!

Cabernet Sauvignon Bottle and Glass
This Cabernet was my favorite of the three wines I tasted.

2017 Santa Julia Organica Cabernet Sauvignon (13.5% abv; about $11 retail)

100% Cabernet from the Santa Rosa vineyards in Mendoza, macerated on the skins for 10 days and fermented in stainless steel. Again, no oak. Are you sensing a theme here?

Color: Bright ruby, fading a little at the edge.

Nose: A mélange of red and black fruit, perfectly ripe. There’s also a hint of bell pepper and a touch of mint.

Palate: Black currants, red cherry, and a tart note of green plum. Medium+ body, with well-integrated tannins and a long, fruit-driven finish. This was my favorite of the three wines and I think it would make a great bargain by the case. It could be your new house red!

Flank Steak and Bok Choy
Yummy with rare flank steak and braised baby bok choy.

Pairing: Grilled flank steak and braised baby bok choy. Just A+ all around!

I hope I’ve convinced you that wine made from organically grown grapes are:

  • Affordable
  • Available
  • Perfect for everyday meal pairing

And I hope you’ll look for the wines from Santa Julia Organica when you’re shopping for groceries or lingering in the wine shop. These wines deliver a lot of bang for the buck!

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