Is Your Wine Organic?


By YJ Editor  |  

wine.jpgAs a health-seeking yogi, you likely are already eating organic, and trying in large or small ways to reduce your impact on the Earth.

But what about your wine?  

Considering that grapes are among the most pesticide-laden agricultural commodities out there, organic is a smart way to go for all of us who imbibe, and for the planet. The good news is that there are more options than ever for organic wine, with wineries in all the major grape-growing regions of the world diving into this sector of the industry.

The tricky part is determining exactly what “organic” means when it comes to wine among a confusing array of labeling regulations.

Here’s the long and short of it:

For a wine to be labeled “100% organic,” it must carry the USDA organic seal and the wine must be made from only certified organic grapes; and the wine may not contain any added sulfites.  (Sulfites are a natural by-product of fermentation; so all wines do have some. However, in most conventional wines, minute amounts of sulfur dioxide are added as a preservative.)

For a wine to be labeled simply “organic,” 95 percent of its grapes must be certified organic, and cannot have added sulfites.

If a wine is labeled “made with organic grapes,” it contains at least 70 percent organic ingredients and may have added sulfites.

Some people have sensitivities to sulfites; others just don’t want anything added to their wine. However, wines without added sulfites are typically not as stable and can’t be shelved as long.

In addition to the many choices for organic wine we now enjoy, there’s also more “biodynamic” wine avaialable.  Biodynamic agriculture is based on the philosophy of an early 20th century Austrian philosopher, Rudolph Steiner, who believed that it was imperative for man to incorporate spiritual principles into the physical world. Steiner’s ultimate aim was to bring nature back into balance, and man into greater harmony with nature. Planting, harvesting, and winemaking procedures that follow biodynamic principles are governed by natural forces, such as the phases of the moon.

Biodynamic vineyards are self-sustaining, with native plants grown alongside the vines to provide the habitat that gives the best insect-control (thus eliminating the need for pesticides) and to prevent soil erosion. Steiner taught that a farm should house both plants and animals, so horses are used for plowing and manure used for compost. But biodynamic wines may not be for the strict vegetarian or vegan, as a number of fertilization and growing techniques involve the use of animal products, such as manure packed into the cow horns and buried over the winter, or yarrow or chamomile blossoms packed in deer bladders or cow intestines.

“Organic” wines are no sure bet for veggies, either.  Both conventional and organic wines are commonly “fined” or cleared using products such as eggs whites, casein (milk protein), gelatin, and isinglass (derived from fish bladders).  While contact with the finished wine is minimal, there is some contact. “Vegan” wine would be fined by bentonite clay or kaolin, instead.  (See www.theorganicwinecompany.com for a good discussion of the subject.)

Is there a difference in quality and flavor between organic and biodynamic and conventional wines? Depends upon whom you ask. Some claim that without pesticides and additives, these “natural” wines are more vibrant, demonstrate a greater sense of terroir, and yes, taste better. Others will say there’s no noticeable difference, and the reduced shelf life of biodynamic and organic wines is a mark against them.

For my money, to compare organic and biodynamic wines to conventionally produced wines misses the point. I’d venture to say that a more important question might be, “Are they made with the intention to support the life and health of the planet, its people, and its ecosystems?”    
As I mentioned, there are a slew of wineries from around the globe now producing organic and biodynamic wines, but I’m particularly fond of two wineries that pioneered the trends in California, Benziger and Ceago (owned by the Fetzer family).  For your Thanksgiving or holiday meals, Benziger’s Sonoma Mountain Red, or for a special treat (and a flush pocketbook), its Tribute, are both terrific.  I also always enjoy Ceago Sauvignon Blanc, Kathleen’s Vineyard.

For a fairly comprehensive list of European and American producers of biodynamic and organic wines, check the following:
http://forkandbottle.com/wine/biodynamic_producers.htm