What is Organic Wine?

Many consumers don’t spend a lot of time showing interest in how their wine(s) came to be.  After the quick question of red or white is answered, the next consideration before purchase is the points rating.  However, if you’re reading this blog you are counted among the few who are interested in not only what color the wine is and how it scores, but also the finer details that make purchasing, opening, sharing and drinking of wine an time-honored tradition and event.

Organic wines….

Much like our State Home Wine Making Laws, the legal definition of organic wine can vary.  In accordance with science, and tradition, each country has established their own laws governing organic food and wine labeling.  In the United States the National Organic Foods Act was passed in 1990 to draw clear distinctions between what does and doesn’t qualify as “organic.”

The simple definition of organic wine is wine made from grapes grown in accordance with principles of organic farming and follows the regulations set forth by the National Organic Foods Act.  Organic farming excludes the use of artificial/synthesized chemical fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides and pesticides.  Organic farming includes the use of composting, and pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides made from common household ingredients such as vinegar, hot peppers, garlic, molasses, etc….

From the beginning of its practice, farming and organic were one in the same.  Consolidation of small farms and the pressing needs of growing populations, among other things, caused the end of organic farming.  The use of mono-cropping (planting one variety of plant over acres of land) created the need for stronger herbicides, pesticides, fungicides and artificial chemical fertilizers.  Unfortunately, grape growing has not been spared.

With the steady movement back towards organic farming practices vineyards across the globe have taking part in this conscience movement.  In the United States the Organic Foods Act put the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in charge of establishing regulations for organic foods including organic wines.

Organic wine labels also extend to the production phase of wine as well; kind of.  Most organic labeling is aimed at the growing phase.  Thus, if you practice organic grape farming techniques it doesn’t matter what you do during the production phase, your wine can still be labeled organic in some parts of the world.  The biggest cause for debate in the production phase is the use of sulfites.  Typically used for the stabilization of wine, sulfur and other commonly used preservatives are non-organic.

Luckily, in the United States, the National Organics Standards Board (NOSB), which advises the USDA, suggested the regulation that wine made with sulfites can be labeled organic.  Thankfully the USDA listened to that suggestion and wrote it into the regulations.  To make a quick note: Wines not including sulfites are generally considered to be in need of consumption with 1-2 years after bottling.

Some wineries, for various reasons, choose not to be certified organic.  Some wineries that are not organic are able to label their wines “natural.”  So…, what does “natural” mean?

Natural wine making is loosely defined as using native yeasts in the fermentation process and little to no sulfites in the wine making process. The definition also includes unfined and unfiltered.  It is a style of wine making that can be applied to any wine.  Natural wine making may or may not use organic grapes.  The labeling of “natural” wines is not governed by laws in the United States and thus has no inspection or verification process.

To add a little bit more confusion to the world of wine, there is also biodynamic wine.  Biodynamic agriculture is a method of organic farming.  It emphasizes a holistic and sustainable approach to agriculture whereby the soil, plants and animals are viewed as being inter-related.   Biodynamic farms are regulated and certified.  The U.S. Demeter Association oversees all certification of biodynamic farming practices.

By now you might be asking yourself, great, I understand the differences in labeling but what does that mean to the actually taste of the wine.  Will organic or biodynamic wine taste different?  Potentially, but that difference will most likely be detectable to the most sophisticated of palates.  Artificial chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides help to improve the balance of minerals in the soil and keep the vines free from bugs and other harmful species.  As a result the development of grape sugars and the resulting wine will more likely be impacted by water, sun and production methods.

Overall the purchase of organic wines is more about a lifestyle choice and helping to support sustainable farming practices.  In a world where going “green” is chic it will be important to read your labels carefully.  If what you seek is an organic wine, look for the following items: the word “organic” or “biodynamic”, not “natural”, and a seal from the USDA or the U.S. Demeter Association.

Click here for a listing of California vineyards to produce organic grapes.

Click here for a listing of vineyards in the rest of the United Stated that produce organic grapes.

About americanwinegrape

American Wine Grape Distributors Inc. AKA A. Silvestro Wine Grape, has been in business for over 5 decades. We are wine enthusiasts just like you and want to share in that enjoyment. This is why we are developing a new and exciting platform for growers, restaurants, sommeliers and home winemakers. Our goal is to bring the wine community together and is the driving force behind our new blog.