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Sip & Savor: Organic Wines

May 04, 2016 03:54PM ● By Cate Reynolds
The sale of organic food products is increasing every year and many consumers are searching for organic wines as well. Conventional wine grape production, like most other farming, often involves the use of many chemicals such as pesticides, weed killers, fungicides, and fertilizers. Concerns about the effects of such chemicals on our health, as well as environmental factors, have many consumers reaching for organic wines to serve with their organic foods.

Today, many wineries are producing wines which can be labeled “organic.” Now the questions are, “Where has this new labeling come from?” and “What does organic on a wine label mean?”

In 1990, Congress passed the National Organic Foods Act. They gave the U.S. Department of Agriculture the responsibility of establishing regulations for organic foods and food products, one of which is wine. The USDA, in turn, established the National Organic Standards Board to advise them. Because wine is included in the Organic Foods Act, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms which controls bottle labeling of alcohol products, also became involved. Today, all wines in the U.S. labeled “organic” must comply with the standards of both the National Organic Program (part of the USDA) and the ATF. To achieve this, wineries are required to file applications and proof of compliance with all regulations of both agencies. This requires a lot of work, time, and expense for any winery seeking this labeling. Add to this the fact that U.S. standards differ from the new rules in the European Union and confusion reigns for consumers.

But wines are not just produced in vineyards. During the winemaking process, natural sulfites are produced and many wineries add additional sulfites to help allow their wines to age, prevent spoilage and bacteria growth, and to preserve the wine’s natural flavor. While some people are allergic to sulfites, most are not. But in the U.S. it is required that the label of any wine with added sulfites say “contains sulfites.” Also certain yeast products used during fermentation may or may not be allowed under organic regulations. Other additives like oak chips for flavoring, and certain proteins used to improve filtration and clarity of wines may also be added during winemaking and will effect organic labeling. Many European vineyards have been growing wine grapes following organic viticulture practices in their vineyards for centuries as part of the requirements of their regions’ demands. But, because of the expense, bureaucracy, and confusion from country to country about labeling a wine “organic,” many vintners who practice organic growing techniques have decided not to certify their wines “organic.”

Sustainable wine making is a systems perspective of integration of the natural and human resources, involving environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity. It requires small, realistic, and measurable steps as defined in the Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices Workbook published by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance.

The gist of this is that at its most basic level, organic wine must be made from grapes that have been grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides. Winemaking techniques should be organic as well with little or no manipulation of wines by reverse osmosis, excessive filtration, or flavor additives. Wines may or may not have been produced with wild yeasts for fermentation. In the U.S., wines labeled “organic” may not contain any added sulfites. Wines that have added sulfites may only be labeled “wine made from organic grapes.”

To be sure of finding an organic wine, you need to look for the USDA Organic label on the wine label.

Other designations on the label may be:

• 100% Organic – the wine must contain 100 percent organic ingredients and no sulfites
• Organic – contains 95 organic ingredients and no added sulfites
• Made with Organic Grapes – made from organic grapes but have added sulfites

Grape growing like most other farming is organic by origin, but like most other farms, most vineyards today are not organic. Many small production wineries practice organic practices but, because of the costs and fluctuations of weather, do not want to be confined by the stringent regulations.

If you think your wine headache is due to sulfites instead of over indulgence than we have some tips for you:

• Choose wines with lower acidity – White wines are generally more acidic
• Choose red wines because they generally need less additives
• Sweeter wines generally need more Sulphur to prevent secondary fermentation
• Choose small production wineries or European wines
• Do some research or ask your local wine expert

Provided by Chris and Kim Lawson, founder/owners of Fishpaws Marketplace in Arnold.