Wine has a history that few foods can rival. It is a passion and an art form that has captivated humans for millennia. Though steeped in tradition, modern farming and production methods have introduced elements that don’t align with wine’s artisan past. Heavy pesticide and chemical fertilizer use have raised considerable concern over human and environment health. Fortunately, there has been a quiet revolution going on for years in grape farming.
As it became clear that fruit from an organic farm was simply a superior choice relative to the quality of the finished product, higher end winemakers starting opting for organic grapes.
This took some time to reveal itself, as many were reluctant to put the word “organic” on their labels, which was understandable. Though we currently associate the word organic with a higher quality product, that was not necessarily the case with the first wines produced and marketed as certified organic. In the 80s and 90s, a number of very well-meaning folks decided that the time was right to start producing organic wines. Though they were admirably correct, they were not necessarily winemakers. As the saying goes, “Wine is the easiest beverage in the world to make – good wine is the most difficult.” High-end wineries were initially concerned that consumers would attach the wrong associations to their products and decided to not identify the grapes as organically grown.
With the passing of time, we not only see that trend reversing, but we’re learning that many wineries have been using organically grown grapes for years.
Of course, being wine, there must be complexities. There is the farming aspect of grape growing, but there is also the distinct aspect of wine production. This is where maintaining quality standards gets a bit tricky. For example, a winemaker can source grapes from a certified organic vineyard, list “organic grapes” on the ingredient list on the back of the bottle yet still employ conventional practices during production. This might include processing aids and inputs not allowed under organic production standards. For example, a wine produced using conventional methods is allowed up to 350ppm of added and naturally occurring sulfites, whereas organic certification states a naturally occurring limit of 10ppm, and allows no added sulfites.
And, though there are no GMO grapes approved for use in winemaking, GMO yeast is commonly used in conventional production, but not allowed in certified organic production.
Though choosing a USDA Organic, or Demeter Certified Biodynamic wine is always a safe route, try doing a little research. As any wine enthusiast knows, wine education is always interesting, and never ending!