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Rangeland Sheep

We’re not talking about vinho verde here, people. Two decades after Captain Planet told us to be good to the earth, it seems that most industries in the U.S. are finally listening. Being eco-conscious is a big deal these days, and many wineries are leading the charge with flying colors. Wine operations of all sizes are taking note of how each barrel, bottle, and vineyard block impacts our precious Mother Earth. From farming with less water to building energy-saving winemaking facilities, to storing wine in barrel alternatives, there’s a rainbow of ways that wine industry leaders can cut back (and give back) to the land.

A sleek, modern barrOso libre barrelel

Sounds like we’re talking about a new car or tech appliance, right? Well, when it comes to being SIP (Sustainability in Practice) certified, Oso Libre Winery takes eco-conscious action to innovative heights. Case in point: The winery’s new steel barrel program, which saves the planet while aging world class wines to perfection. The steel barrels feature measured oak influence and use 90 percent less carbon footprint than the all-oak counterpart (imagine how happy the world would be if all wineries used this method!). Not sure how to visualize this ultra-modern vessel? Picture a steel barrel with oak planks inserted inside that can be adjusted to influence toastiness. Now you’re getting the picture. This June, the winery will bottle the first of its steel barrel-aged wines, which have been maturing for the past two years. Can’t wait to try ‘em? Us too! Head over to the website or Instagram @osolibrewinery to keep up to date on the newest offerings and ingenious innovations.

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Who needs barrels when you’ve got perfectly good clay?

The act of storing and aging wine in clay vessels is as old as time. However, the practice has been lost for decades…until now. Many winemakers, including Amy Butler of Pelletiere Estate Winery, are using these clay containers to create wines with a different flavor profile (plus, it Clay Vessel Pelletiere Estatedoesn’t hurt that using clay doesn’t call for the cutting of trees or production of barrels).

“People have been using clay amphorae for literally millennia,” Butler says. “It reminds me that wine is ancient and painstaking art form and connects us to our past.”

What about taste? Butler says these the natural porosity of clay allows wine to better breathe as it ages, changing the overall character—also wine tends to mature faster in amphorae, with tannins and acidity softening more readily. Try: Pelletiere Winery’s Sangiovese, currently the only wine Butler is aging in clay amphora. Sadly, the winery’s 2013 vintage is sold out, but go to the site and sign up for the club to be ready for the next round!

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Keeping the vineyard wild

Rangeland cattle roundupWhen you think of red-blooded cowboys and ranchers, you probably don’t think “biodynamic farming,” but the hands-on ranching family behind Rangeland Winery is all about enhancing the web of life in all aspects. More often than not, the winemaker will show up on a horse—and when given the chance—they’ll always go with the most natural approach. This goes for the family’s carefully rotated grass fed beef operation as well as its precious vines. With 40 acres planted of wine grapes and 1,500 acres of wild oak woodland, Mother Nature is allowed to take its course (a rich habitat of native plants and animals call this region home). About 200 sheep graze the vineyard when dormant, adding natural fertilizer to the land and eliminating mechanical mowing or herbicides. Try: the winery’s earthy 2014 dry-farmed Zinfandel for a taste of true Paso terroir.

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This blog was written by Hayley Thomas Cain, food and wine writer for SLO New Times and You can reach her at [email protected] or follow her on instagram @flavorslo.

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