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Robert Sinskey: Common Sense About Wine

Robert Sinskey: Common Sense About Wine

(Photo courtesy Rob Sinskey)

Carrie Strong | Chef's Blade

There is an element of rational thought evident when we approach any of the things we do and choices we make, whether it’s searching for a career path, choosing a restaurant, “going green” or purchasing a bottle of wine. Sometimes we complicate situations with extraneous details and pressures that make our decisions seem insurmountable. But for Robert Sinskey, Napa Valley vintner, choosing to create wine from organic and biodynamic vineyards was a matter of common sense.

While Robert was a Future Farmer, early on, he did not begin his career in the agricultural world; but rather, went to Parsons School of Design in New York City for photography. After working as a commercial photographer for several years, Robert travelled to Napa to help his father establish a new winery situated in the Stags Leap AVA. Sinskey’s decision to change the original vineyards to organic was influenced heavily by his concern for the people surrounding him. For Robert, it did not make sense to use toxins near his home or expose his workers to them. As he explains, “A luxury item should not hurt your palate or the planet.”

Yet consumers are faced with little information regarding organic and biodynamic wine. One must regard these terms from an agricultural stand point as opposed to seeking out definitions through wine. According to the USDA, “organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations." Biodynamic methods date back to Rudolf Steiner’s “Agriculture Course” in 1924, and involve “managing a farm within the context of the principles of a living organism”) As per Demeter USA, the most common example of a sustainable living organism is a forest where by in all realms of biological survival the forest is self-sufficient. All organic elements are recycled through the system. Such is how a biodynamic farm exists.

For the vintner, there is a list of guidelines that must be followed for CCOF organic certification and Demeter USA biodynamic agriculture certification, which must be maintained for three years before certification. Robert Sinskey Vineyards (RSV) is currently certified Organic and Demeter certified Biodynamic in all 170 acres of vineyard. Other requirements for the wine making process exist that would certify the wine as an organic product as opposed to simply the organic grapes from which it’s made. For example, because of the use of sulfur in the wine, RSV wine is not certified organic and therefore labeling reads, “Ingredients: Organic grapes.” This shows the consumer that, when seeking an organic wine, it’s important to read the label carefully.

Because of the differences in organic agriculture verse organic wine standards, Robert maintains his own perspective on wine and sulfur stating, “All of the great wines of the world have a little bit of sulfur in them, as do a lot of food products. Europeans think we are nuts to focus on and expend so much energy on the topic. Sulfur is an organic fungicide in the vineyard and a powerful antioxidant in wine. If you use too much sulfur, you ruin the wine. However, at less than 100 ppm, the wine is protected from oxidizing…in other words wines with no added sulfur have more a chance to suck!”