Increasing efforts are being made in one kitchen to the next to eat more consciously. Organic sales continue to rise and consumers are becoming more educated on healthier food options, with organic stealing the scene. In fact, it’s not uncommon to sit down to an entire meal of organic ingredients, and now, even organic wine is joining the party.
Wine is often overlooked when purchasing organic. The majority of wines are still subject to harsh chemicals and pesticides during the growing process for many reasons from cost efficiencies to the myth that organic wines are less flavorful. However, the next time you find yourself in the wine aisle or at your favorite wine bar, it is important to keep in mind that organic viticulture is on the rise and an increasing variety of fine organic wines are available for you to enjoy!
What makes a wine organic?
According to the US Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program, a wine is organic if it “is made from organically grown grapes and without sulfites.” Unfortunately, this stipulation makes it nearly impossible for any wine maker to boast an organic product, particularly because nearly all wines contain minute quantities of sulfites to preserve the wine.
Sulfites are a natural by-product of the fermentation process—fermenting yeasts generate naturally occurring sulfites in small amounts ranging from 6 to 40 parts per million (ppm). After grapes have been harvested, some winemakers will add additional sulfites to wine as an anti-oxidant and preservative through many different stages of the aging process to maintain consistency.
Some people experience allergic reactions to sulfites; however, when added properly, sulfites are not toxic to humans or the environment. Many feel that they are imperative to preventing oxidation and bacterial spoilage of wine.
The levels of sulfites added varies. In the U.S., wines can contain up to 350ppm. In Australia, the limits are 250ppm for dry wines and 300ppm for sweet wines (one-tenth that permitted for dried fruits). Organic winemaking standards suggest no more than 100ppm in all finished products, while most organic wines contain less than 40ppm.
From grapes to groves to growing practices: The best places to find organic wines. When looking for organic wines, it is helpful to keep some key points in mind. First, because nearly all wineries use at least trace amounts of sulfites in the preservation and aging process, it is most important to look for companies using organically grown grapes or environmentally responsible, pesticide- and herbicide-free farming and harvesting practices. This is often advertised on the back label.
Secondly, if you are concerned about sulfur and sulfites, wines grown in cool climates usually require less added sulfur and reds usually have less than whites. Cask wines need more than bottled wines, and wines with screw caps usually have less than wines using corks.
There is not a particular grape or varietal that is more conducive to organic growing practices. Any grape treated and grown organically is a good base for organic wine and many aficionados would argue that the flavor—unharmed by harsh chemicals and growing practices—is more fruitful and rich than that of a wine made from nonorganic grapes. Instead of searching out certain types of grapes, make sure to check the back label for organic call outs such as “fermented with organic yeasts,” “natural fertilizers or no synthetic growth regulators,” wineries that promote biodiversity, or “no chemical additives.”
As organic becomes more mainstream and wineries nationwide begin to adopt organic farming practices, choices for organic wines are increasing. Below are a few suggestions.
Bonterra Merlot 1999 (organically grown), $16.00
Frey Syrah 2001 (organic), $11.25
Frog’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1999 (organically grown, but not certified), $35.00
Topolos Piner Heights 1999, $18.00
Pares Balta 2002 Mas Petit Cabernet Sauvignon-Garnacha, $17.95
Summerhill Estate Winery 2003 Pinot Blanc, $16.95
Chapoutier 2004 La Ciboise Coteaux du Tricastin Blanc, $14.90
Pares Balta 2004 Blanc des Pacs, $16.95
Private stores only
Lotusland 2002 Gewurtztraminer Stone’s Throw Vines, $15.90
Private stores only
For those looking to learn more about the organic wine-making process, check out the wineries listed below for more information and tour schedules:
“The oldest and largest purely organic winery in the United States.”
The Organic Wine Company
An importer of organic wines from around the world including producers in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, New Zealand, and California’s finest.
Four Chimneys Organic Winery
“America’s First Organic Winery, Since 1980”
“Wines of distinction. Organically grown grapes”
“Established in 1941 with the intent to prove that the Santa Cruz Mountains were the ideal soils and climate for producing premium California varietal wines, Hallcrest Vineywards has a long running history of producing fine wine from the Santa Cruz Mountains.”
Author, Courtney Ludden