Organic Wines : Why Should You Care?
"The idealist of today is the realist of tomorrow."
- Jawaharlal Nehru
In recent months, we have received an increased number of requests for information about organic wines, both from the public and the media. Questions we thought we had answered continue to be asked over and over again, especially, "What is an organic wine?" and "Why should I care about organic wines?" We are delighted with this growing interest in what we do and why we do it, and therefore it is with much pleasure that we update you as to the status of organic wines, legal and otherwise.
First, let’s clarify some terms. For the purpose of this article, what we mean by “organic wine” is a wine made with certified 100% organically grown grapes and with minimal added sulfites. The fundamental idea is that wine made from grapes grown without pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers is clearly better for our planet, its farmers and therefore, it’s probably better for you, the wine drinker.
What is an organic wine in legal terms? By law in the United States, the standard for "organic wine" is that the wine be made with certified organically grown grapes without the use of any added sulfites.
The USDA has ruled that organically grown wines could contain a maximum of 100ppm total sulfur dioxide in the finished wine.
Here’s the second question we are perennially asked: "Why should consumers care about & choose organic wines?" Because of the alternative. Conventional wines are made by using conventional agricultural practices. These were adopted in large part after the last World War and rely heavily on chemicals. The problem with the conventional approach is that synthetic chemicals damage the soil, the vine, the air, the water, the farmers, and, probably, all of us. This approach triggers a destructive circle of poison. Pesticides, herbicides and fungicides throw the natural harmony of the vineyard completely off balance. Chemical fertilizers strip the soil of minerals essential to its health, necessitating an ever-increasing reliance on artificial inputs to restore what has been lost.
There is an enormous amount of scientific evidence documenting how synthetic pesticides, weed killers, fungicides and other chemical substances damage the soil and the plant, its fruit and everyone in their path. Grapes are no exception and wine is merely liquid grapes. Table grapes are one of the most heavily sprayed crops. When pesticides are sprayed on grapes, they end up as residue in the wine. And there are systemic pesticides which are sprayed on the ground, absorbed by the vine, and end up as residue in the wine.
Thankfully, there is organic farming. There is absolutely no question that organic farming methods are better for the earth and all of its inhabitants. Organic methods are based on traditional, common sense farming methods which are not harmful to people or the environment. Like the Chinese acupuncturist, the organic farmer's primary objective is balance, and his other mandate is the Hippocratic Oath: "First do no harm." The key to the success of organic farming is maintaining a balanced, fertile soil. A healthy soil is likely to produce a healthy plant capable of fighting-off disease.
Here’s a brief review of organic techniques & tools. "First do no harm," said Hippocrates, the father of medicine. That is our motto as well. So instead of chemical fertilizers, we spread manure or algae in the vineyards. Instead of spraying pesticides, we promote biodiversity. That means we grow plants intermixed with the vines in and around the vineyard. This diversity helps balance the vineyard soil by attracting beneficial flora and fauna into the vineyards, including insects, spiders and predatory mites. Cover crops provide shelter and food (pollen, nectar) to the "beneficial bugs," decreasing or replacing the need for synthetic insecticides or pesticides.
What cannot be fully controlled through biodiversity can still be managed organically through the use of naturally occurring plant or mineral extracts which leave no residues in the soil. As for weeds, we let them grow, and we mow periodically so that the cut weeds decompose back into the ground, providing organic fertilizer. Needless to say, this approach is much more labor-intensive than conventional quick fixes. In fact, it costs on average 20% more per acre, and yields are generally lower. In our opinion, the costs are more than worth the outcome.
“All right,” you might think, “organic viticulture is better for the earth and probably for me, but are the wines any good?” The answer is a question: what would be the point of producing something, organic or otherwise, that no one can drink? Organic wines are every bit as good as their conventional counterparts, and as affordable and varied. Some believe that organic wines taste better: more flavorful and "cleaner." That's what we hear most often. Of course, it's always a matter of personal opinion..
One theory is that since organic vineyards have more natural resistance to inclement weather and disease they perform better in poor vintages than non-organic vineyards. Additionally, many organic vineyards are harvested by hand, not by machine. This means only the ripest and healthiest bunches are picked.
So why do we encourage you to choose organic wines? Because they're good, affordable, and because when you choose organic, you help us break the "circle of poison." There is absolutely no question that organic agriculture is the way OF the future and the way TO our future, therefore we should all support it wherever and whenever we can.
'Till Next Time...