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When given the choice: health-conscious individuals often choose organic produce, proteins, and grains over conventional ones. And some people go to great lengths — buying specific brands, shopping at designated grocery stores, and enrolling in organic-only subscription services — to obtain organic food. (No judgment — us too.)
So, when it comes to adult beverages, namely wines, it’s no surprise that like-minded consumers are looking for vinos with organic content. In this realm, however, a little background knowledge can be more powerful than the words printed on a bottle label. (And your location matters, too.)
“There are different definitions of ‘organic wines’ in the US and Europe,” says Julia Prestia, owner of Venturini Baldini, historic producers of organic Lambrusco and sparkling rosé wines in Emilia-Romagna, Italy. “In the US, an organic wine is a wine made from organically grown grapes without added sulfites, while in Europe an organic wine is a wine made from organically grown grapes that may contain added sulfites.”
In short, a product could pass in Europe as “organic wine certified” but in the US, the label would read “made with organic grapes.” If that variance alone made you open up your wine fridge for inspection, keep reading our chat with Prestia to decide if organic wine is worth the hype and price tag.
Organic wine is a wine produced from 100% organically grown grapes. Organically grown grapes are grapes grown without using synthetic chemicals such as herbicides and pesticides.
Organic farmers work with nature by boosting their vineyard’s biodiversity. The vineyard becomes a self-regulating, natural ecosystem, which is able to combat problems intrinsically and eliminates the need for artificial, and potentially toxic, chemicals.
One of the challenges with producing organic wines is the importance of sulfites in the winemaking process. There are two types of sulfites, also known as sulfur dioxide: natural and added. Natural sulfites are natural compounds produced during fermentation. Added sulfites preserve freshness and protect wine from oxidation, unwanted bacteria, and yeasts.
There are several organizations that certify organic wines. Certification is provided by an independent third-party organization that carries out annual audits on vineyards that have applied for organic certification. The organization ensures that the grapes the winery grows comply with the strict standards of both the particular certifying body and the Department of Agriculture.
In the US, the USDA regulates organic wine. In Europe, the European Union provides regulations on organic farming, and certified wines can be identified by the Organic logo, which is a green flag. There are several agencies that certify under EU regulation. For example, Venturini Baldini’s certification is provided by Codex, but there are other entities in Italy and Europe that all adhere to the same regulations.
There is no official or legal definition of natural wine, and there are no organizations that can certify that a wine is natural. The most common definition of natural wine is a wine produced without pesticides, chemicals, or any other additives.
According to RAW WINE, one of the associations for natural wines, natural wine is farmed organically biodynamically, using permaculture or the like and made — or rather transformed — without adding or removing anything in the cellar. No additives or processing aids are used, and ‘intervention’ in the naturally occurring fermentation process is kept to a minimum. Neither fining nor tight filtration is used.
Organic wines from the US must not have sulfites, which can greatly reduce a wine’s shelf life and, in some cases, can substantially change the flavor.
Personally, I firmly believe anyone should drink or eat — for that matter — organic produce. Organic food and beverage, grown and produced without the use of chemical pesticides, makes for a healthier product. It is not impacted by chemicals, it is kinder to the environment, and it doesn’t give you headaches! Based on our clients’ feedback, we know that our wines don’t produce headaches or hangovers. They are also very low in histamine, which often leads to headaches.
Organic wine is more expensive to produce. It is definitely more challenging to farm organically without using synthetic herbicides and synthetic fertilizers, but organic farming allows better stewardship of the land, and I believe it will allow us to produce quality wines for many generations to come.
Consumers will likely find organic wines to be on the higher end of the wine price range that you will find at your local wine shop. However, we find that our customers appreciate the value of organically grown produce and are willing to pay a premium for the higher quality.
And with that, we raise a glass. Cheers to drinking organic and higher quality wines!