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Organic Wine

by Staff Writer - C. Barnett | July 01, 2011

Most winemakers are considered to be (grape) farmers. The wines that are produced are only as good as the grapes that are grown. Wine grapes are an agricultural (farmed) product. Conventional wine grapes are chemically treated like any other agricultural product to deal with fungi, pests, viruses, weeds and to increase the crop yield. If there are chemicals on the grapes, then they end up in the wine. Grapes are among one of the most pesticide used produce. To grow an organic grape, the grape farming must be done without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Over the last several years, more concern has grown about good health and environmental consciousness. Because of this, organic wines have gained a lot of significance. Winemakers all over the world are increasingly looking into creating Organic Wine. Part of the problem is that the definition and legal enforcement of the term “organic” varies considerably from one country to another, and the laws about use of the term are constantly changing and evolving.

For a wine to be classified as and “Organic Wine”, the grapes must be obtained from a vineyard that follows organic viticulture (grape growing) and that uses naturally-occurring substances instead of industrially produced chemicals used in conventional viticulture.

Conventional Farming vs. Organic Farming

All grape growers face the same natural obstacles: disease, pests, weather and weeds. Conventional techniques used over the last fifty or more years to meet the challenges of nature are tools such as chemical fertilizers, fumigation, herbicides and insecticides.

Organic farmers reject chemicals in favor of more “natural” techniques such as:

  • Controlling weeds by mowing them regularly and allowing them to rot back into the ground (this makes for an organic fertilizer)
  • Fertilize using algae or composted animal manure or composted weeds
  • Grow plants that attract useful bugs that will rid the grape plants of unwanted and harmful insects

Grapes grown in this “natural” manner can be government certified as organic grapes. The wine can then be advertised as Organic Wine from “organically grown grapes.” Many winemakers are now using organic techniques, but not seeking certification because of the strictness of the government oversight.

Conventional Winemaking vs. Organic Winemaking

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The government certification for a wine to be “organic” does not stop at the grape harvest. Organic winemakers can only use approved organic methods in winemaking operations.

Sulfites (sulfur dioxide) are the main ingredient that wineries use to extend the longevity or shelf life of wine. There are naturally produced sulfites that occur from the yeasts during fermentation. To be able to call a wine “organic”, winemakers must abide by strict, government-mandated sulfite rules. The health effects of sulfites are negligible except for a small percentage of people who have a sensitivity to them.

How to Know If Wine is an “Organic” Wine

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To know you are getting an Organic Wine, you must look at the wine label. You have to know what the terms means and then you can determine if this wine is for you.

There are four main categories that organic wine can claim:

  • Made with Organic Ingredients/Organic Grapes/Organically Grown Grapes The wine must be from 70% organic ingredients. Sulfites have to measure below 100 parts per million.
  • Made With SOME Organic Ingredients The wine has less than 70% organic ingredients. The label cannot have any information about a certifying agency or any other reference to organic content.
  • Organic The wine must be made from 95% organic ingredients. The non-organic 5% of ingredients must be either an agricultural ingredient that’s not organically available or another substance like added yeast. There can be no added sulfites, but naturally occurring sulfites can measure up to 100 parts per million.
  • 100% Organic The wine must be from 100% organically produced ingredients. There can be no added sulfites. The wine can have naturally occurring sulfites from fermentation, but they have to measure less than 100 parts per million.

Some Wineries that Produce Certified Organic Wines

  • Badger Mountain Vineyard, Washington
  • Bonterra Vineyards, California
  • Casa Barranca, California
  • Cooper Mountain Vineyards, Oregon
  • Four Chimneys, New York
  • Frey Vineyards, California
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