An Introduction to Organic Wine

For many people who want to go completely organic, that can be difficult if you enjoy wine. You would think that organic wine is simply wine with organically grown grapes – as most anyone could assume. The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Organic Foods Program, founded by the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 would say otherwise. The original act maintained that organic wines could include sulfites (preservatives in wine to prevent spoiling), but that has been made more stringent over the years following the act. Now the following guidelines are applied to wine labels explained by the Organic Consumers Association website.

100% Organic

    For a wine to be labeled “100% Organic” and bear the USDA organic seal, it must be made from 100% organically produced ingredients (in other words, the grapes must be grown organically), have an ingredient statement on the label, and give information about who the certifying agency is. A wine in this category cannot have any added sulfites. It may have naturally occurring sulfites, but the total sulfite level must be less than 100 parts per million.
    Organic
    To be labeled “Organic” and bear the USDA organic seal, the wine must be made from at least 95% organic ingredients, have an ingredient statement on the label where organic ingredients are identified as being organic, and give information about who the certifying agency is. Again, a wine in this category cannot have any added sulfites, but it is allowed to have naturally occurring sulfites below 100 parts per million. The nonorganic 5% must either be a nonorganically produced agricultural ingredient that is not organically available or another substance like added yeast.
    Made with Organic Ingredients – Made with Organic Grapes -Organically Grown
    To claim any of these statements, a wine must be made with at least 70% organic ingredients, have an ingredient statement on the label where organic ingredients are identified as being organic, and give information about who the certifying agency is. A wine in this category may not bear the USDA seal. It may contain added and naturally occurring sulfites and the total must still be under 100 parts per million. The 30% of nonorganic ingredients must be nonorganically produced agricultural ingredients that are not available in an organic form or another substance.
    Some Organic Ingredients
    This category is for products that have less than 70% organic ingredients. It cannot bear the USDA seal nor have information about a certifying agency or any other reference to organic content.

Some vineyards who have been growing organic grapes and producing what they called “organic wine” for many years have had to change either their labels or their product and are not happy. One French vineyard and wine importer stated on their website that

While we support the effort of some winemakers to explore avenues to eliminate the use of sulfur dioxide, the truth is that wines without added sulfites are very few in number and very unstable in quality, giving the public a negative perception of what an Organic wine can be! The wine industry has therefore the dubious honor of being the only one that cannot call its product “organic” even though it is made with more than 95% of organic components. [With the higher permissible level of 100ppm SO2 present in the wine, the percentage is still 99.99% organic!].

    In all cases, however, an independent body of certification, itself duly accredited by the almighty USDA, has the responsibility to control each winegrower, once or twice a year, to verify his adherence to the standards for organic farming, now internationally recognized. The fundamental idea behind organic wine is that making wine from grapes grown without chemical fertilizers, weed killers, insecticides, and other synthetic chemicals is better both for the planet AND for the wine drinker because all of these things can damage the soil and the plant, and can end up in the wine as residue.

They even go as far to call it an example of “economic imperialism” and “outright blackmail.” Like it or not, them’s the rules.They really shouldn’t be “wine-ing” because these restrictions are almost identical to all other organic food guidelines, so if you see a wine label that says anything about being organic, you can be assured that it has been put under strict guidelines and is the real deal.One more thing to note is that organic grape vines tend to have a higher resistance to poor weather or pests and can therefore, produce a better yield during poor vintages (years the grapes are harvested) that the non-organic wines. So if you’re familiar with wine and you know of a poor year, try an organic wine from that vintage and enjoy!