Written as our Company Values in 2021, by Markus Praat
It feels weird to have to talk about sustainability in 2021, considering how air pollution, global warming and dead soils are a threat to us all. And looking around us in the Netherlands things generally seem to be moving in the right direction. It was our stay in New York City that showed once more that it's important to keep informing, keep sharing and keep doing what we can to help reducing humanity's gigantic footprint on this planet. Our stay in New York mostly showed that even willing people can't act in a more sustainable way if they don't know what the steps are that they can take.
So, a sense of Place wants to be an agent of change. We want our store to be on a constant quest on how we can reduce our footprint, support positive projects like afforestation and regenerative agriculture, take the lead in sustainable packaging and of course support winemakers that are in their turn working their soils for the good. Most importantly; we want to share a happy vision on what a more sustainable society can entail: green energy, organic farming, more room for nature, less food deserts, more food forests. Some of the direct steps we have taken:
- we only sell European products, however many interesting projects in South America, South Africa and Australia there are, for us it's not worth traveling 25,000 km on a diesel powered boat (let alone an airplane).
- for the high quality accessories in the store we are doing our best to offer as many second hand options as possible. It's a little bit more labor intensive on our side, but well worth the trouble.
- we offset CO2 for the orders that we ship. For now we are supporting Oxfam Novib with their project to plant trees on the south side of the Sahara desert in Nigeria, in an effort to stop further desertification ánd sequester carbon at the same time.
- for packaging materials we reuse cardboard boxes as much as possible
- All the store's energy usage is powered by 100% Dutch green energy via Vandebron
Many different people are attracted to natural wine for many different reasons. Before we get to what those reasons can be, let's talk about the term natural wine in itself. There is no real definition of what natural wine is, therefore everybody has their own. We wrote one years ago at a pop-up which is probably still correct:
Natural wine: bio(dynamic) farmed, hand picked grapes. Unfiltered, wild yeasts, no deacidification, minimal (or no) sulfites added.
Then it gets into further details, but even the definition above is not complete. Or maybe it's too complex: it's wine that hasn't been fucked with. A beautiful natural product: grapes, fermented into an alcoholic beverage. Voila.
Some people prefer natural wines because of its rebellious nature, others prefer it because of their personal health, some believe the taste is superior and again others value the fact that natural wine doesn't hurt the planet.
As is often the case, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. We connected to natural wine for all the reasons above, but feel we need to emphasize the latter. We do not want the products we consume and sell to hurt the planet, period. And when done right, we can even achieve the opposite: regenerative agriculture.
Basically something humanity has done forever, but what Western agriculture seems to have lost in the last century. We're taking the introduction directly from Wikipedia, because we couldn't put it into words any more clear:
Regenerative agriculture is a conservation and rehabilitation approach to food and farming systems. It focuses on topsoil regeneration, increasing biodiversity, improving the water cycle, enhancing ecosystem services, supporting biosequestration, increasing resilience to climate change, and strengthening the health and vitality of farm soil. Practices include recycling as much farm waste as possible and adding composted material from sources outside the farm.
Regenerative agriculture on small farms and gardens is often based on philosophies like permaculture, agroecology, agroforestry, restoration ecology, keyline design, and holistic management. Large farms tend to be less philosophy driven and often use "no-till" and/or "reduced till" practices.
On a regenerative farm, yield should increase over time. As the topsoil deepens, production may increase and fewer external compost inputs are required. Actual output is dependent on the nutritional value of the composting materials and the structure and content of the soil.
So, the soil becomes richer, invigorates the vines and isn't killed by chemicals. What's most important? This way of farming is capable of sequestering an enormous amount of carbon (CO2) directly from the atmosphere into the soil. This way of farming can be a massive asset in fighting climate change. So focusing on these products, these natural wines, means we can enjoy a beautiful product ánd support a better way of farming. One of the problems with wine and regenerative agriculture? Monocultures.
One of the biggest threats in modern day agriculture is monoculture. Planting hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of the same plants in an area with hardly any other vegetation is asking for problems. Especially when these plants are often also all clones from one and the same parent. Think of corn fields, potato fields, wheat fields. These are all incredibly vulnerable to funghi, insects and diseases and require more and more inputs of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides to keep them safe and pest free. This as a direct result from farms becoming more and more specialized. Their company becomes a monoculture as well, often these farms merely harvest one agricultural product.
This while coming from a situation where almost all farms had at least a handful of sources of income: a few cows, an orchard behind the house, a vegetable garden, chickens and fields for corn and wheat. This way a farmer wasn't forced into a corner every time a problem arose and wouldn't take the drastic measures farmers now often take: spraying the shit out of their fields, depleting it of all life, just to be sure to kill all pests. And with that, kill a field's resilience, and often also their pests' natural predators.
Unfortunately, when we take a critical look at a vineyard, the situation is very often it's equal: rows and rows of vines, nothing growing in between, sprayed to death, surrounded by other vineyards, all using the same popular clones.
Luckily, there is another way: experiments are taking place where fruit trees are again planted in vineyards. Also the old system of field blends has been revived and more and more animals are being reintroduced to the vineyards. It goes without saying that these are the winemakers that we try to find and support.
At a sense of Place we try to look at out company holistically. If it's dangerous to lose diversity in farming, it's probably also not wise to build a monoculture company, solely around one product. So we seek diversification as well: at our store we will focus not just on wine but also on ciders, complimentary products and local products that deserve a spotlight.
Ciders and co-ferments
Apple or pear ciders are sometimes also called apple / pear wines, and the reason for that is simple: the production of cider is very similar to that of wine. The raw product is crushed, pressed and left to ferment. A natural product.
The production is similar, the raw ingredients are different. We already spoke about the importance we see in sustainability, well damn: we're talking about a product that grows on trees, the planet's very own climate fixers. Besides being able of producing enormous amounts of fruit, these trees grow every year, sequestering carbon from the air into their trunks. They are also really not grapevines, meaning that by selling both ciders and wines, we have already turned a monoculture into a 'duoculture' (co-ferment). We can't wait to see them grow together in a field. After all, in nature grape vines grow in trees.
We are not in any way experts in any of the fields mentioned above. But we do believe that what you know can be shared. From a young age we pledged to always stay curious and forever try to keep learning. This now means learning as a person, learning as a company and as a passionate follower of wine.
If you have read anything above that isn't correct, that you would like to comment on or just talk about, shoot the author a message at firstname.lastname@example.org. We mean it when we want to forever keep learning :).
Markus Praat, founder at ASOP Wines