Mother Earth Living

Innovation in Winemaking: Interview with Heather Pyle, CalNaturale

By Staff

I love pouring myself a big glass of wine after work. But on nights when it’s just my boyfriend and I eating a simple dinner, it’s difficult to finish off a big bottle of wine.

Instead of uncorking a bottle, I like to get smaller Tetra Paks of CalNaturale wine to share over weeknight dinners. While boxed wine sometimes gets a bad rap, there’s really no quality difference in packaged wines versus bottled wines–if you choose good quality in the first place, that is.

Good quality wine starts with innovation in the barrel and organic farming in the field. I talked with CalNaturale’s head winemaker, Heather Pyle, to learn a little more about how organic, Tetra Pak wine can fit in with every other bottle at liquor store.

How do you balance being a wine traditionalist with being a leader in 1) organic winemaking and 2) eco-friendly wine packaging? 

I actually see them going hand in hand. Traditionally, agriculture was not done at the expense of the earth, but rather with respect and deference to it. It is only when yield and/or income are the main drivers that the earth suffers.

Organic farming and handling of grapes is much more like the “old days” when manual labor and astute observation took the place of chemical panaceas. Long-term organic farming should promote a healthy ecosystem that does not cry out for a radical treatment for some unforeseen pest or act of nature.

The eco-friendly packaging is a modern way to respect the earth and therefore promote sustainability. While clay amphora may have been practical in the “traditional” past, lightweight packaging that is inert, recyclable and sturdy is a win-win for consumers and Mother Nature alike.

How has winemaking and distribution at CalNaturale evolved since you came on in 2008?

CalNaturale’s winemaking is always evolving, as the sourcing of organically grown grapes in the best areas of California is an ever-changing opportunity. We are thrilled with the choices we have in Mendocino County and Paso Robles, but we are presented each year with new opportunities as growers convert their practices from conventional to organic farming.

As CalNaturale grows, we will be able to incorporate these new locations and perhaps varieties into our winemaking quiver. Additionally, there is a new learning curve associated with organic farming and treatment of organically grown grapes in the winery.

For instance, our options appeared somewhat narrowed in the winery as some yeasts, and other additions we were accustomed to, were not approved by the organic community. Learning to live without those and to actually make exceptional wines with more traditional methods is a welcomed education, but an ongoing one.

What’s the next big thing in wine? 

I believe organic wines like CalNaturale and organic winemakers can be considered the next “big thing,” though we’ve already made some significant strides in the industry. Organic winemaking is a blend of tradition and thoughtful observation of what integrations optimize wine quality and, most of all, the expression of the place the grapes were grown.

Organic is mainly a hands-off, limited intervention process, but it takes an astute observer and one who learns from experience, as well as the experiences of others, to incorporate natural interventions. Whether through composting in the vineyard or winemaking processes, these are imperative to enhance the wine’s expression of place rather than just sound drinkability.

What sets CalNaturale apart from other organic wines?

CalNaturale’s Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are single vineyard, appellation wines–much like the great, traditional wines of the world. 

Unlike other “boxed” wines on the market, CalNaturale’s varietals are recommended for their robust flavor and great taste, picking up numerous awards in 2011. The Cabernet Sauvignon has already picked up six gold medals and was recently awarded “Top 10 Red Wine under $15” at an esteemed wine competition, which is unusual for a wine made with organically grown grapes. 

In addition to award-winning flavor, the wine’s easy, everyday packaging expresses a sense of place and sophistication, allowing consumers to enjoy fine wine on a mountain top or while camping, as well as in a fine dining establishment. 

CalNaturale’s packaging helps make organic wines more accessible to an active, fast-moving culture while keeping the carbon footprint small for our eco-conscious customers.

Freelance writer and editor Kim Wallace can be reached at

  • Published on May 15, 2012
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