The Basics of Organic Wine

Date March 21, 2008 | Chuck | Editorials & Wine Basics
From reading industry magazines and trolling the wine shelves, one will notice a few bottles with a new designation, "Organic Wine" or "Made from Organic Grapes". What does this really mean? Is the wine better for it? Is 'regular' wine unhealthy? Read on... There aren't any global standards for making organic wine. Sometimes not even country-wide standards. Therefore it's usually the growers who take it upon themselves to adhere to a standard set of rules created by a local independent regulatory body to certify their grapes and practices as organic.


Question: What are the main steps a winemaker would follow to certify his or her wine as organic? Answer(s):
  • Do not use synthetic pesticides, fertilizers or herbicides.
  • Limit or eliminate the use of copper sulphite and prefer a canopy rig to promote airflow over and between vines.
  • Limit or eliminate the use of sulphur dioxide to prevent oxidation.
  • Plant grass in the vine rows to battle weeds and prevent earth erosion.
  • Use natural products to clean all equipment.
  • Use wild or ambient yeast.
  • Keep filtration to a minimum, or not do it at all.
  • Keep your vineyard organic for 3 years before labeling wine as organic.


Question: Is the wine better for it? Answer(s): It's truly hard to tell since many old-world wineries have been growing organic for many years but don't go through all the extra trouble (and red tape) of having their wines reviewed and certified.


Question: Is ‘regular' wine unhealthy compared to organic wine? Answer(s): Absolutely not. Wine (of all kinds) has been touted for years as having health benefits. In terms of pesticide use, the agents used are regulated by health authorities and have no discernable affect to humans. Some people are more sensitive to chemicals than others and should take precautions as necessary, but that's nothing specific to wine.


Question: If the differences in taste are negligible, why should I choose organic wine? Answer(s): The main reason to buy organic wine (or anything organic for that matter) is that it's more environmentally responsible.


Question: How much of the world's wine today is certified as organic? Answer(s): 1% or less, but as the market demand grows (which it is) we will soon start seeing more and more wines going through certification.


Question: Does organic wine still have sulphites? I think that's what gives me headaches. Answer(s): Some people do believe that wine (specifically red wine) gives them headaches due to the sulphite levels, and I don't debate that fact one bit. All wines contain sulphites as it's a naturally occurring substance while in fermentation. Organic wines do however contain LESS sulphites (not none completely) and therefore may not trigger a headache in some.


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