Simply put, organic wine is made from grapes that were farmed and vinified organically. This means that the farming practices used to produce the grapes do not rely on artificial chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides. In the winery, chemicals like “Mega-Purple”, commonly used in conventional wines to deepen the colour of red wines, are not permitted when making organic wines. But there’s more to organic wine than this basic definition. Ahead, we explain the nuances of organic wine, address whether organic wine is healthier than regular wine, and tell you what to consider when choosing organic wines. By Caroline Miguelez
Does organic wine contain sulfites?
Legally, what qualifies as “organic” differs by country so if you’re hoping to avoid wine with sulfites in it, drinking an organic wine from the USA is your best bet. Organic wines from European countries or Canada may contain sulfites, in those countries the choice to include them or not is left up to the individual producer.
Find a wine that is labelled “Made with Organic Grapes” rather than just organic? This means that the grapes were farmed organically and are 100 percent organic when picked but sulfites or non-native yeasts may have been used during vinification (winemaking).
Is organic wine healthier than regular wine?
That’s still up for debate. Like food, just because something is not labelled organic doesn’t necessarily mean that chemicals and pesticides were used. Organic certifications are very costly and create a prohibitive barrier to entry for smaller producers with less capital. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “grown with organic practices” at your local farmers’ market, that typically indicates this scenario. Smaller wine producers may not be able to afford official certification but they can still be creating great quality wines. Your local wine shop will be able to guide you on this.
The data behind conventional wine practices’ use of chemicals and health dangers is still not definitive. What we do know is that there have been multiple instances of chemical farming practices that have led to sickness or death. Think of the links that have been made between the popular pesticide RoundUp and cancer. All that is to say that choosing organic wines may be a good idea.
Without harsh chemicals in the vineyards, grape vines are more susceptible to pests. Certain wineries like Honig Vineyard & Winery in Napa Valley are teaming up with household pets to combat bugs in their vineyards. Proprietor Stephanie Honig’s labrador retriever Honey has been trained to smell grapevine mealybugs and identify them before the bugs infest the vineyards.
3 things to keep in mind
Now you’re ready to shop for organic wines, keep these points in mind as you select bottles:
Look for a wine labelled “Organic” or “Made with Organic Grapes” or “Biodynamic”
Organic certified wines from the USA will always have the USDA Organic seal. Look out for Demeter Biodynamic certifications as well. These indicate that the wines are organic and go a step further to follow special farming practices.
Just because it’s organic, doesn’t mean it’s better
Organic wines have many pros to them but one con echoed over and over in the wine community is the lack of consistency in quality. Additions of sulfur are not allowed in many organic wines but SO2 does play an important role in keeping a wine tasting “fresh.” Keep an open mind when trying organic wines for the first time. It may take a few different bottles before you find one that you really like!
Organic wines aren’t necessarily vegan
Egg whites, animal byproducts, and different yeasts can be used during the winemaking process. Keep in mind that if you’re looking for a vegan and organic wine, you’ll want to make sure the label touts both.
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