Going green and living a more organic lifestyle is becoming so popular that consumers want to educate themselves on everything organic. Organic wine is just one such product that has recently caught our attention.
What is organic wine? How does wine become certified organic? What is the catch? Are wines touted organic and natural truly organic and natural? That being asked, you are probably wanting to know more about the organic wine industry. If so, you will want to have a better understanding for what exactly organic wines are (if they even are) and what qualifies a wine to be actually organic. As with any organic food or drink product you probably want to know what the taste difference is. Whatever your interests are in organic wine, this article will answer many of your questions and educate you a bit more on the organic wine industry. There is more to it than meets the label that is for sure!
What exactly does organic wine really mean?
According to the USDA and National Organic Program (NOP), organic wine is defined as a product (wine) made from organic grapes without adding any sulfites (sulfur dioxide). Well, this fateful restriction (no added sulfates) means that most of the wines we have been touting as organic wines may only be referred to not as truly organic but only as wines made from organic grapes. Yikes!
That being said, what then happens to the quality and stability to the wine if no sulfites are added? After all, if you eliminate adding sulfites, the wine quality may be poor because sulfites add much needed stability. As it stands, any wine can contain up to 100ppm of sulfur dioxide. This is an extremely minute amount.
Why are there not a ton of truly organic wines?
While we completely applaud the efforts of the winemakers who investigate and invent practices to eliminate the use of sulfur dioxide, the truth is that wines without added sulfites are very rare. In the beginning of the green movement, several wine makers tried going green and going organic. But due to the complexity of sulfites and their necessity when providing stable, quality wines, many wines made without adding sulfites were poor and not rated well. This in turn gave organic wines a less than stellar demand.
Can there be organic wines?
The wine industry is actually the only industry that cannot call its product organic even though it is made consistently of more than 95% of organic ingredients. Even with up to 100ppm of sulfur dioxide present in the wine, the highest permissible level, the product is still 99.99% organic.
This simple equation is unfavorable to the winegrowers who are looking to market a quality potable product. Even though the amount of inorganic ingredients is so minute, winemakers are what many think to be discriminated against in a really exceptional way.
It is also an aggravation for wine drinkers and wine merchants who do not need more categories to confuse them. Keep in mind though that a wine without sulfites should not be synonymous with an organic wine, because it is in fact possible to make a sulfite-free wine with non organic grapes. No one wants to get caught calling something organic that is not. This takes us back to marketing and labeling.
Why focus on sulfites?
When you consider that organic is more than no sulfites and organic grapes, you need to consider the land these wines are produced from. All the attention seems to be on the grapes and sulfur dioxide levels. What about conventional grape production issues like water pollution, soil depletion, the loss of biodiversity, the ecological impact, resistance to pests, and the dependence on chemicals?
An independent certification accredited by the USDA, has the accountability to control each wine producer, a couple times annually, to authenticate the vineyard and compliance to the standards demanded within organic farming. The primary initiative behind organic wine is that making wine from grapes grown without pesticides, weed eliminators, chemical fertilizers, and other artificial chemicals is better both for the vine itself and for the wine consumer. This is because all of these things could damage the soil and the plant, and can end up in the wine as trace elements. So why focus on sulfites in organic wine ruling?
Because the NOP standards are fundamentally used from the same standards already in practice in European countries, we have yet to insist they add this layer of administration to our already busy wine producers. After all, it increases their costs and in due course the price we all have to pay for our wine without any visible benefit to it. Actually, the NOP does not permit US producers to say that US wines are certified by our own 30 year old system.
We are certainly NOT trying to state that we would cut corners to certify anything as organic that is not. This article is simply put here to educate you on organic wines, labeling and what IS actually organic. This inside scoop will help you make better decisions for yourself when learning about authenticity and the bureaucratic behaviors of certification.
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Author: Amy Wermuth