The supply and demand for organic wines is growing at a rapid pace worldwide. Organic wine is wine that is both good for the environment and good for our bodies. There are several different reasons why I have always been an advocate for the promotion and consumption of this enticing, aromatic, exuberant fermented goodness we call…wine. First of all, it’s yummy; secondly, it has many health benefits when consumed in moderation as part of a healthy diet. For example, wine has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers, slow the progression of neurological degenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, improve lung function (from antioxidants) in white wine and increase longevity, to name a few.
Organic wines are becoming increasingly more popular, but, much confusion still exists about what organic is. The two important aspects of organic wine making are: what happens in the vineyard and what happens in the winery. The true definition of organic wine depends on where the wine was produced; when a label says organic, it means the wine has met certain standards that are set by a government agency. Different nations have their own certification criteria, so what’s organic in one country may not be so in another. This topic is in constant debate as the various organizations concerned with this matter study the subject in detail. However, the growers of the vines share in the belief that the purpose of growing organically is to bring about a healthy soil, as well as to produce the highest quality product that is beneficial to the environment and us.
Some of the terms commonly used to describe organic wines are: organically grown, certified organically grown and biodynamically grown. An organic vineyard is one where grapes are grown without harsh chemical fertilizers, weed killers, insecticides or other synthetic chemicals. This system of growing grapes tries to cut out the chemicals in favor of natural cures to vineyard problems. One example of vineyard problems involves pests that can cause disease and can ruin a vintage. One way to combat this problem using organic viticulture is to find an insect that likes to eat the insects that eat the plants, like ladybugs. Organic farmers aim to maintain healthy, biologically active soil whose fertility is provided by plants that fix nitrogen from the air. In the vineyard it means planting cover crops between the vines instead of applying herbicide.
Certified organically grown designates that the grapes in the wine are not only grown and certified by a government or private certifying organization, but that the wine has been produced and handled without any prohibited material or color additive having been applied. Many wineries that are producing organic wines chose not to be certified, for many reasons, some do not want the added expense and bureaucracy of registering. As a result there are a number of organic wines in the market that are not labeled “organic”.
Biodynamic farming treats the whole vineyard as an ecosystem. This process is guided by natural cycles that rely upon both plants and animals for success. The farmers also pay close attention to the rhythms of the earth and the solar system. The wine making process is accomplished as natural as possible.
The label on your bottle of wine may say “organic wine” or it may say “wine made from organic grapes”, this can be confusing. In the US, wines labeled “organic” are produced without added sulfites; wines labeled “made with organic grapes” can add sulfites to the wine. Sulfites are a naturally occurring compound found on grapes, onions, garlic and many other growing plants; it is nature’s way of preventing microbial growth. Sulfites also act as a preservative in the wine. For those of you that are more sensitive to sulfites, or have sulfite allergies, please read the label carefully, and as always, “drink what you like and like what you drink”.