What is Organic Wine, and should I buy it?
The answer isn't simple regarding Organic wines. There are MANY variables to consider! We'll just touch on a few important points here:
- Simply put, Organic refers to the absence of synthetic pesticides and herbicides in agriculture. Organic designations generally also require practices which preserve the health of the soil. In terms of wine-making, Organic can apply to just the grapes, or also to yeasts and other additives introduced to the wine-making after harvest. But it doesn't govern broader sustainability practices, which is why many wine experts will look for Sustainable wine-making over organic designations.
- Grapes can be grown organically while still being sprayed with approved "natural" chemicals, While these natural pesticides and herbicides aren't necessarily bad for you or for the environment in limited quantities, their overuse can be, and the problem is you can almost never tell by the label! Read this great article on how "organic" doesn't necessarily mean it's good for the environment or our health.
- The label "Organic" means something different in the US and in Europe. In the US, "Organic" wines cannot include any added sulfites. In Europe, they can. This DOESN'T mean that organic wines in the US are healthier than in Europe.
Sulfites are one of the most misunderstood and unfairly maligned aspects of wine. Some sulfites occur naturally in the vineyards and added sulfites act as a necessary preservative in wine, and affect the flavor, in a positive way. While a very small percentage of people do have a medical problem with sulfites, wine headaches, for which sulfites are usually blamed, more likely have other causes (e.g histamines and dehydration.) Click here for more on sulfites.
- Anyway, Organic wine certification in the US is costly and is sometimes used as a selling point by large producers, rather than it necessarily being a reflection of a serious commitment to the environment and great wine-making. In the US, unless you do have a severe sulfite sensitivity, you can look for "made by Organic Grapes" on the label, rather than just USDA certification.
- The bottom line? Organic is great, but also look for sustainable practices. In general, smaller family-owned wineries tend to take more care with their land, their vines and their people, and will not always make paying for expensive certifications a priority. In France, even biodynamic producers rarely advertise their practices on the labels. (one of those French pride things!) Since at the cafe we tend towards wine from smaller producers, many of our wines here are not organically certified, but ARE made using organic, sustainable and /or biodynamic practices. And, if you want to be sure you are drinking the most environmentally friendly wine possible, go Biodynamic!