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Organic Wines 101

What is an Organic Wine?

In the USA, following the creation by the USDA of NOP (National Organic Program), an organic wine is defined as "a wine made from organically grown grapes without any added sulfites". By this definition, the majority of what you and I have been calling organic wines can now only be referred to as "wines made from organic grapes" (or organically grown wines), since they may contain up to 100 ppm of added sulfites.

Also read: Opinion of Paolo Bonetti, CEO of Organic Vintners

 

We support the efforts of the winemakers who explore avenues to diminish the use of sulfur dioxide, however wines without added sulfites are few in number and unstable in quality and thus have given the public a negative perception of the organic wine industry in general. The organic wine industry has the dubious honor of being the only one that cannot call its product "organic" even though it is made with more than 95% organic components. [Even with 100ppm SO2 present in the wine, the highest permissible level, the product is still 99.99% organic!].

This is detrimental to the winegrowers who seek to market a consistently drinkable product and yet are discriminated against in a unique way. It is also an annoyance for consumers and merchants who do not need more categories to confuse them. Moreover, note that a wine without sulfites should not be equated with an organic wine, since it is quite possible to make a sulfite-free wine with conventional (non organic) grapes.

The excessive attention given to this SO2 matter has distracted the public from much more important issues like soil depletion and erosion, water pollution, loss of biodiversity, ecological impact, resistance to pests, chemical dependence, and product standardization to name just a few which plague the conventional way to produce grapes and other agricultural products.

An independent body of certification, itself duly accredited by the USDA, has the responsibility to control each winegrower, once or twice a year, to verify his adherence to the standards applied to organic farming, now recognized internationally. The fundamental idea behind organic wine is that making wine from grapes grown without chemical fertilizers, weed killers, insecticides, and other synthetic chemicals, is better both for the planet AND for the wine drinker because all of these chemicals damage the soil and the plant, and can end up in the wine as residues.
How do Organic Wines taste as compared to Conventional Wines?

 

French organic wines show up consistently among the top ten best wines of any region where they are represented, being cited in magazines as the most innovative, interesting and personalized products around. Regrettably though, due to a lack of public awareness and trade recognition, this quality does not come at a big premium, compared to everything else labeled "organic" nowadays.

One theory for this outstanding quality is that organic vineyards have more natural resistance to poor weather or pestilence, and therefore tend to perform better in poor vintages than non-organic ones. The extensive root-system developed by organic vines provides more strength to the vines and more micro-nutrients to the grapes, resulting in more complex and more authentic tasting wines.

Organic grapes produce thriving natural yeast cultures, provoking healthy fermentation and true flavors. Many organic vineyards also hand pick their grapes, rather than using mechanical pickers. This allows only the ripest and healthiest bunches to be picked, with the minimum amount of stress/damage to the vine, fruit or soil.

Organic vineyards choose these organic methods to obtain the strongest and richest grapes possible, with the fewest detrimental effects on the environment, and their wines reflect that dedication to quality.