It should go without saying that I choose wines bottled in glass rather than the new plastic-coated aseptic cartons that are growing in popularity. But glass has its drawbacks too. And wine-related plastic is about more than just the container. Not only do I have to look for wines with natural cork stoppers–as opposed to plastic “corks” or screw caps that are lined inside with plastic–I also have to consider the capsule–that antiquated wrapper around the neck and over the top of the cork. Historically, capsules were made from lead. Nowadays, they are made from tin, heat-shrinked plastic, or a polylaminate material that contains both metal and plastic. So I look for wines without any capsule at all. But although more and more vintners are selling wines capsule-free, they are still hard to come by. So I was happy to discover Sutton Cellars wine at the Paul Marcus Wine Shop right down the street from me.
Sutton Cellars is a small, San Francisco winery that bottles in glass with no capsule and with just a plain kraft paper label. No plastic.
The cork itself is natural–not plastic–but that’s not all. It’s a solid piece of cork, as opposed to agglomerated corks, which are made from tiny cork pieces compressed and glued together. Carl Sutton, the owner of Sutton Cellars, told me that the bits of cork in agglomerated corks come from numerous sources and are more apt to be contaminated with TCA, the chemical responsible for “cork taint.” He wants to avoid that as well as the glue.
He explained these things after I emailed him to ask about doing a review for this blog. And then he told me I should come to one of his “Jug Sunday” events at the winery where you can pay a deposit for a refillable jug (1 liter or 4 liter size) of the mystery wine of the day (it’s different at every event, and Carl will not reveal what it is) that you can bring back to the next Jug Sunday to refill. So last Sunday, I headed into San Francisco for a fun afternoon of wine tasting and education.
Right away I bought the jug of the day to take home. I got the four liter size because Carl had run out of one liter bottles. Oh, who am I kidding? I would have bought the big jug anyway.
And then I tasted the other offerings. In addition to various red wines, which are all unfiltered and unfined and just so delicious, Sutton Cellars is famous for its vermouth. Vermouth? I thought that was something you waved over a glass of gin for half a second so you could call it a martini. I didn’t know people actually drink vermouth by itself. But Carl explained that vermouth is an apéritif, stimulating the appetite through its mildly bitter flavor. Sutton’s vermouth is a neutral white wine fortified with unaged brandy, infused with seventeen botanicals, blended and bottled fresh weekly. (I copied that last bit from the website.) He displayed three of those botanicals for us: rosemary, chamomile, and dried orange peel. I could maybe develop a taste for this stuff.
He also explained how his dessert wine called Solera is made:
(Almost) every year I make a fortified red dessert wine rotating between Syrah and Zinfandel and every time I make one of those I keep some back and add it to the solera. The current bottling has wines from 1999 through 2007 in it. In addition to not topping the barrels in order for the wine to oxidize and soften, some of the wine is placed in glass demijohns and baked in the sun. I know of noone else in the US doing this, but it’s common practice in a few small appellations in France and Spain. It gives the wine such an amazing complexity, there is no other process that can replicate it.
Solera, I have to say, is a little taste of heaven. Plastic-free living is fun.
If you live in the Bay Area, you can find out when the next Jug Sunday will be by sending an email via the website to request to be added to the mailing list or by following Sutton Cellars on Facebook.
Wait a minute, you might be thinking, that’s all very well and good if you live in the Bay Area. But what about those of us who don’t have local wineries offering wine in refillable jugs? What are we supposed to do with this information?
Thanks for asking. Look at Sutton Cellars as an example of what sustainable wine-making can be. Sure, you can order wine from Sutton Cellars through the mail. But I’m not sure shipping individual orders of wine around the country is the most environmentally friendly practice. If there are wineries in your area, how about speaking up and asking for less plastic and less packaging? See if they will institute refillable jugs or at least use less packaging on their bottles. Show them that it can be done another way. And the next time you are looking for wine to buy, notice if there are any wines on the shelf without capsules around the neck and try one of those. You can’t always tell what kind of stopper is inside before buying the wine, but you can see what is or isn’t on the outside.