What Does It Mean When a Wine is Organic?

The Juice

We all know the basic definition of organic– produced or involving production without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial agents. Is it the same for organic wine? Let’s find out.

To put it very simply, 

Organic wines are

1) produced with organically grown grapes

and

2) made in the winery with organic methods.

To have organically grown grapes requires an entirely different set of practices to maintain the vines. Additionally, organic wine doesn’t mean that the wine doesn’t have additives. There is actually a list of approved additives allowed in organic wines, such as egg whites, yeast, and animal enzymes. So keep in mind, being organic does not necessarily mean the wine is also vegan. 

The Dilemma 

There is a dilemma with organic wines, and that is the importance of Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) in the winemaking process. 

The US definition of organic wines: A wine made from organically grown grapes without added sulfites.

Organic wines are not as popular in the US as they are in Europe, where the definition is a bit different.

The European & Canadian definition: A wine made from organically grown grapes that may contain added sulfites.

These added sulfites preserve the freshness of the wine and protect it from oxidation, and unwanted bacteria and yeasts. Since US organic wines must not add sulfites, that will usually greatly reduce the wine’s shelf life and could even substantially change the flavor. In essence, a winery could do everything right in growing their grapes organically, but if they add sulfites during the bottling, their wine wont recieve the USDA organic certification.

Also often lumped together, natural wines are not always organic. To consider a wine “natural,” the grape has to be handpicked and crushed. Nothing is added to tanks during fermentation like acid, sugar, or enzymes, allowing the fruit to ferment on its own using the naturally occurring yeast on the grape’s skin. Natural wines are also unfiltered, so you may see sediment or ‘cloudiness’ in the bottle. Unlike organic wines, there is no consistent regulation or certification in relation to natural wines. Although organic wines may be handpicked, organic additives may be added to the wine to prevent cloudiness.

Other types of winemaking:

Biodynamic wines: All biodynamic wine is organic, but not all organic wine is biodynamic. Organic winemaking focuses on taking things away, such as chemicals and pesticides. Biodynamic winemaking mimics the organic approach of no chemical intervention but adds in practices for enriching the soil, planting, pruning, and harvesting based on the moon cycle and astrological signs.

Sustainable wines: Sustainable wines have a winemaking process that protects the environment, supports social responsibility, maintains economic feasibility, while still producing high quality wines. As grapes are grown, harvested, and made into wine, a multitude of environmental factors are prioritized, from maintaining biodiversity on vineyards, ensuring soil health to utilizing renewable energy technology like solar, as wine is being produced or creating recycling measures to conserve water as the grapes grow..

Certifications to look out for:

The USDA National Organic Program. Also look for wines labeled “Made with Organically Grown Grapes”. USDA 

A certification of sustainability for California wines that restricts the use of bad chemicals in vineyards. sipcertified.org

Demeter offers organic and biodynamic certifications internationally. demeter-usa.org

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