The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Patagonia wants us to rethink how we drink with its new list of natural wines, ciders and sakes

Patagonia has recently launched a curated collection of natural wine, ciders and sakes. (AMY KUMLER/Patagonia Provisions)

Just a few years ago, any discussion of environmentally friendly winemaking centered on sustainable, organic or biodynamic viticulture. The focus was on the vineyard and how it was farmed. More recently, wineries have become certified B-Corporations or attained the new Regenerative Organic Certification, both of which cover industries other than wine and include social responsibility goals for their members. A “we’re all in this together” perspective has emerged as forward-looking wineries and companies act to protect the Earth, adapt to climate change and fight poverty.

Enter Patagonia Provisions. Founded in 2012 as a subsidiary of Patagonia Works, the umbrella company of the outerwear company founded by Yvon Chouinard nearly 50 years ago, Patagonia Provisions offers “responsibly sourced food” from farmers, growers and fishers who use environmentally sound practices. In late October, the company entered the fermentation market with a line of natural wines, ciders and sake, featuring producers who focus on the environment and regenerative farming. (Patagonia was a sponsor of the Regenerative Organic Certification.)

In its marketing, Patagonia Provisions regrettably echoes the fearmongering of the “clean wine” crowd who would have you believe you’ve been swilling poison all these years. They should stick to their more positive message of minimalist viticulture and its avoidance of synthetic herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers, and the adoption of farming practices that actually regenerate carbon into the earth rather than extracting it into the atmosphere.

Birgit Cameron, co-founder with Chouinard of Patagonia Provisions, describes the model as “looking at business through a solutions-based lens.”

“It’s about building product around solutions to the environmental crisis,” Cameron told me in an email. “With these natural wines, ciders and sakes, we’re looking at the agricultural practices that go into winemaking and re-examining how these crops (grapes, apples, quince, rice) can be grown in ways that restore the health of the planet. And in the cellar, we’re working with producers that don’t use additives, chemicals or other harmful ingredients. Everything ladders up to leveraging business to save our home planet.”

The beverages in the new line are exclusive to Patagonia Provisions and available only online, currently to customers in 12 states, including Virginia, and the District of Columbia. They include a scintillating apple and quince cider from Alai Sidra in Chile, made by a winemaker from French Basque Country from fruit grown in the Andean foothills. Terada Honke Gonin Musume Sake is made by a 24th-generation brewer in Japan who uses organic rice polished to 70 percent. It is the most delicate sake I’ve ever tasted, with aromas of chrysanthemum and jasmine and a flavor as clear and prolonged as the ring of a Zen temple’s gong. (The cider and sake will be available in late November.)

Wines include two from Sicily’s Mount Etna region by natural wine icon Frank Cornelissen, a biodynamic chablis from an estate that dates back 400 years and a pinot blanc from Meinklang winery in Austria infused with thyme that grows wild in the vineyard. Mildly herbal and utterly beguiling, the wine is like vermouth without the kick, and may transport your mind to a scenic mountain pasture studded with herbs and brush. There is also a wine from Wild Arc, a converted dairy farm in New York’s Catskills, made from Marquette, a hybrid variety developed for cold northern climes. Kindeli Wines in New Zealand contributes a piquette made from grapes, apples and feijoas, and is sold in cans.

The fermented beverage line was selected by Brian McClintic, who was featured in the popular wine movie “Somm” and who resigned from the Court of Master Sommeliers last year to protest lack of diversity in the profession, and sommelier Vanya Filipovic. Their idea was to take “wine beyond grapes” and to encourage small farms to adopt organic and regenerative practices.

“Most decisions about what to plant and cultivate … are based squarely on what the market dictates, not what nature wants for a space,” McClintic told me in an email. “If we’re truly going to live up to oft-abused buzzwords like ‘natural’ and ‘sustainable,’ we should create room for wine to be explored in a broader context.”

McClintic envisions a “utopia” in which “our hero worship of [grape] variety [will be] replaced by a reverence for all aspects of a biodiverse ecosystem.” For wine, that would mean embracing hybrid and native grape varieties, and experimenting with blends using other fruits and herbs that grow nearby.

“The fact that vinifera has spread to all corners of the New World is likely not a result of us consulting the land, but rather the idolatry of grape varieties we put on a pedestal,” he said.

So this is not just an effort to change the way we market or drink wine. It’s a call to us as wine drinkers to rethink how our choices affect our planet. We are all feeling the effects of climate change. Our elected leaders may be unwilling to do what’s necessary to face the crisis, pointing instead to the market, the private sector to take action. Well, here’s a small but significant part of the private sector taking modest but meaningful steps. Patagonia Provisions won’t save the world with piquette. But it may get others thinking about taking the next step. I’m all for that.