Slow wine is an arm of the slow food movement that focuses on good, clean, and fair wine. The movement recognizes wine as both an agricultural product and an artisanal product. It supports and promotes small-scale producers who are employing sustainable viticultural practices and creating terroir-driven wines.
A Little History Lesson
A child of the slow food movement, slow wine has a similar manifesto, but it's wine centric.
Roots in Slow Food
To really understand slow wine, you've got to go back to 1980s Rome where the slow food movement started. Italian, Carlo Petrini, was protesting the first McDonalds slated to open in the center of Rome. He was advocating for preserving Italian food heritage of quality ingredients from small local farmers, lovingly prepared. The principles of the movement became summarized by good, clean, and fair, meaning quality, healthy food produced in a sustainable way that supported farmers and artisans while remaining accessible to consumers. In short, slow food is the polar opposite of McDonalds. The slow food movement may have been born on the streets of Italy, but today, it's global community is united in the fight against big agriculture and the many parts of the industrial food system that negatively impact the Earth, human health, local economies, and cultural heritage.
The Slow Wine Guide
Fast forward to 2010, when long-time slow food advocate, Giancarlo Gariglio, initiated the first publishing of the Italian Slow Wine Guide. The book is a selective guide to wineries throughout Italy that are committed to making terroir-driven wines from sustainably farmed grapes. Today, Slow Wine publishes a guide for numerous countries, including the U.S. The guide acts as a filter for those looking to support wine that fits into the slow wine ethos. Featured wineries are described through vineyard stories, a transparent lens into their farming practices, and tasting notes for a handful of their wines. Guides are published annually and each year wineries are researched and visited to ensure they still comply.
The Slow Wine Coalition
A decade after the first Slow Wine Guide was published, the Slow Wine Coalition was born. This is really the first formal figurative gathering space for the wine-focused movement to come together. It's a global network of winemakers, sommeliers, importers, distributors, and other wine industry professionals and enthusiasts that are dedicated to working on changing the wine landscape. In February of 2022, Coalition members from around the world gathered in Bologna, Italy to meet and exchange information on projects and ideas to move the revolution forward.
What Qualifies as Slow Wine?
So what are the metrics that a winery needs to meet to be considered in the framework of slow wine? It varies country to county, with certain countries, like the U.S., considering the list of stipulations to function more as strong guidelines, while other countries, such as Italy, are more strict and consider each point a requirement. The following are the key principles taken into consideration.
- A minimum of 70% of the grapes used in the production must be grown directly by the winery.
- They may not use chemically synthesized fertilizers, herbicides, or anti-botrytis fungicides. (This is a requirement of wineries featured in the U.S. Slow Wine Guide).
- A sustainable management approach to environmental resources must be applied. This means limiting things such as irrigation systems unless absolutely necessary.
- The winery facility itself must be built with regards to the landscape and take sustainability into account.
- In the cellar, minimal intervention wine is preferred with high-intensive techniques such as reverse osmosis, added sugar, or oak chips being prohibited.
- Sulfite additions cannot exceed the limits established by the EU's regulations for organic wine.
- The wines must be terroir-driven, reflecting their place of origin, and therefore wineries are strongly encouraged to ferment with native yeasts.
- Wines must be free of any winemaking defects that would stamp out regional identity.
- The winery should be culturally sensitive to the surrounding farming community and must be invested in fostering growth within the community.
- Winemakers and viticulturists should encourage biodiversity through practices such as soil management, protection of pollinators, planting cover crops, inter-planting other flora in the vineyard, incorporating animals into the farm system, and utilizing manure and compost.
The slow wine movement is pushing for quality wine made responsibly. Similar to natural wine, the expression of a time and place is what sets these wines apart from conventional wine in taste. The sustainable wine farming practices and minimal intervention in the cellar are what ground this movement in its efforts to create a more resilient wine industry.