While most people have become accustomed to seeing food labelled organic, organic wine is a little less commonly found at your average grocery store. If you know what you are getting when you buy organic chicken but feel less sure with organic wine, here's the breakdown to help you understand.
Organically Certified Wine
The United States, European Union, and other New World countries each have different governing bodies that create the parameters of what qualifies as organic. Sometimes these rules only apply to the farming practices, while other times they apply to both the way the grapes are grown as well as the winemaking techniques.
U.S. Organic Certified Wine Requirements
Wines must meet certain requirements to be organically certified.
- Grapes used must be grown organically and Certified Organic by the USDA. This means no synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides are allowed in the vineyard. It also means genetically modified seeds or organisms (GMO's) are not permitted.
- All ingredients used to make the wine must be certified organic by the USDA.
- All agricultural product that goes in the wine during the winemaking process must also be Certified Organic.
- All non-agricultural product must be on the list of allowed substances and cannot exceed 5% of the total product. No prohibited substances can be used.
- The addition of sulfites at bottling is not permitted.
United States vs. European Union Organic Wine
While the stipulations for how the grapes are farmed are similar between the U.S. and the EU, the addition of sulfur at bottling is where they really differ. The EU allows the addition of sulfur at bottling with a maximum of 100 parts per million for red wine (compared to 150 for conventional reds) and 150 parts per million for whites and rosés (compared to 200 for their conventional counterparts).
Organic Wine vs. Wine Made With Organically Grown Grapes
Another USDA classification is "Made with Organically Grown Grapes". While this starts off on the same as the organic certified wine, it deviates quickly after that. The differences can be seen in the requirements below:
- 100% of grapes used must be grown organically (USDA Certified Organic).
- Any remaining agricultural products used do not need to be organic.
- All non-agricultural product must be on the allowed substances list.
- Sulfites can be added to less than 100 parts per million in the finished wine.
- Wine must be produced and bottled in a certified organic facility.
Certified or Uncertified
There are many smaller wineries that forego the formal certification but practice organic viticulture. One reason for this is that the certification process is time consuming and an additional expense for the winery. Just because a winery isn't certified, doesn't mean they aren't exercising organic farming practices. These wineries will likely strive to communicate with a large degree of transparency in place of the certification on their label.
Organic vs. Biodynamic
Organic and biodynamic wine are often confused, as they have some overlapping characteristics. You can think of bio-dynamically farmed grapes as organic and a whole lot more, while organically farmed grapes are really in more of square box. Biodynamic really takes the whole eco-system into account and it is often practiced on a much smaller scale because of some of the nuances that are involved. Is one better than the other? That depends on who you ask. From an environmental perspective, biodynamic is more of a forward-thinking approach. And those winemakers practicing this way would argue the attention to the earth and its surrounding certainly impacts the quality of the wine.
Making the Transition to Organic Wine
Organic wine, whether it is certified or not, is a clear environmentally responsible choice. When growers use organic farming methods in the vineyard, it not only benefits the entire ecosystem, but it also benefits your health by eliminating the synthetic chemicals and toxins you consume. If you are looking to go one step further, searching out natural wines is great next step for your health, tastebuds, and the planet.