Until a recent visit to my sister in Santa Fe, NM, I hadn’t actually purchased any organic wines. One reason – my husband is the person in our home who buys the wines.
He still hasn’t grasped the concept that at the most basic level organic only means something was grown without pesticides. Not that it’s healthier for you, better for you, worse for you – just grown without pesticides. In his mind it means it tastes bad and I keep trying to remind him that is a result of a recipe he doesn’t like and not the absence of pesticides.
The likelihood of me asking him to select organic wines and not having him stomp out of the room is low.
In Santa Fe I found myself with 3 hours to kill in the Whole Foods (waiting for a hole in my car windshield to be repaired – I digress). While I spent most of the time in beauty section, I did carve out some time in the wine section. I managed to select a couple of decent organic wines (with some help) priced from $8-17.
This experience compelled me to come home and do a little research on Organic Wines.
Organic Wine labels can be a little confusing. The source of the confusion stems from Sulfites.
You’ve probably heard of them before, but what are they and what’s the big deal? Sulfites occur naturally in the wine making process. They are also be added to wine to help the wine age better in the bottle, give the wine better color and prevent the wine from oxidizing (going bad) once the bottle has been opened. Reputable wineries use them minimally and they are not know to be linked to cancers or other health risks.
So, what is the problem with Sulfites? Some people are allergic to them, that is about 1 % of the population. Consequently people that are allergic will want to avoid them.
What do sulphites have to do with Organic Wines?
Well, in order for a wine to be labeled Organic in the US, it must not have any added sulfites. This is a problem for wine makers. There is no “better” substitute for sulfites in the wine making industry, leaving winemakers with fields of organic grapes out of organic wine making.
Wines made with organic grapes will be labeled “wine made with organic grapes”.
Digging deeper we could look for how organic the wineries process is, are they manipulating the wine with reverse osmosis, using excessive filtration? Are they using Oak Chips to flavor the wine (as a flavor additive)?
Yeast is used in wine making too. Many organic wineries will choose wild yeast for fermenting their wines.
Ideally winemaking techniques would be organic as well; little or no manipulation of wines by reverse osmosis, excessive filtration, or flavor additives (such as oak chips). Many organic winemakers also prefer wild yeasts for fermentation.
Other areas to consider would be the sustainability of the wine making practices, but there are not standards in place for measuring this, so if you encounter it on a label, you’ll have to take their word for it.
Any time you really delve into the wine making process it can feel overwhelming very quickly.
Start out by looking for wines made with organic grapes. Chances are those wineries are looking at all the areas they can improve upon on their own and at the very least you know the grapes are grown without herbicides, fungicides or pesticides.
I’m hoping my longtime friend and Wine Maven Antonia will create a nice wine list for us to sample from. Cross your fingers that she’ll say yes.