Introduction to Organic Wines

Expert Insights from AYZA Midtown’s Lea Williams

1. Organic wines are more expensive because growing and harvesting the grapes organically can be more labor intensive. Certification can also add additional expense.

2. Most cannot tell any taste difference between organic wines and non-organic wines.

3. The two main reasons people choose organic wine is because they are socially conscious or they feel that their bodies react better to the wine (as it is produced without chemicals).

Organic wine is the next big thing in wine, taking up more and more wine shelves around the world. Organic wine comes from organically grown grapes, free of chemical pesticides, fertilizers, fungicides and herbicides. It lets the ground, water and the sun do the work and stops chemicals from getting in the wine and hurting the environment. Also, it prevents chemicals from have a deleterious effect on one’s health, although it is yet to be proven that other wines are causing harm (which is very hard to do outside a laboratory).  Organic wine’s popularity is growing, and to prepare you for the influx of organic wine, we prepared a little guide below.

Growing vs. Making Process

Although there is agreement that wines are organic if they don’t have chemicals (fertilizers,pesticides, fungicides and herbicides), there is disagreement whether the winemaking process can use additives (most notably, preservatives such as sulfur dioxide) and still be labeled organic.

Wines naturally have sulfites (a preservative), but normal practice has been to add much more sulfites. This has more ramifications for in labeling than it does in whether the wine spoils.

Organic Labeling and “Certified Organic” Seals from USDA

The United States Department of Agriculture controls how organic wine is labeled. There are strict rules to tell customers exactly what they are drinking.

Getting a seal from the USDA through National Organic Program requires a significant investment of money and time. Only wines with more than 95% organic ingredients (not counting water and salt) can get this designation. Some wines will say 100% organic. Each is certified by an organization licensed by the USDA

To get the USDA certification, both the grape growing and winemaking process need to be free of chemicals. That includes the addition of sulfites. Some wine makers argue that they should be able to get the seal as sulfites are already in the wine and are necessary. However, wine can advertise certain wine qualities that “organic” even if they do not earn the seal.

Organically Grown Grapes or Ingredients

This means that the wine growing process follows the principles of organic farming, but the wine normally has added sulfites. In that case, you will see ADDED sulfites. Frequently, they give a percentage of organically produced grapes if it is a mixture.

Natural Wine

Natural wine is the most primitive way to make wine. No yeast is added. No sugar is added. The field is dry-farmed. The vines grow amongst other plants, sometimes even trees.  It means that the wine has the least impact on the environment possible and no advanced technologies were used in the growing or producing of the wine. There is no certification for this. These wine typically have surprising characteristics as not controlling water and other parts of the wine making process that we take for granted.

Sustainable Farming

This is different than organic farming in that it takes additional steps. Sustainable farming’s concern is the land and disturbing the land as little as possible. So these vines grow amongst weeds. The point is to be as socially conscious as possible in the growing process. It is separate than the actual steps taken while making the wine, but you can be sure it does not introduce anything that would damage the environment.

Organic wines are playing an ever-growing role in the wine world. It is exciting to see all these good wines reach the market that reflect a more conscientious perspective on the growing and making process of wine.