The Difference Between Organic vs Non-Organic Wine
As much as the term ‘organic’ is popular, organic foods make up less than 4% of US food sales! So what can you do to be more organic? Well, it seems reasonable that organic wines should be a great choice. Oddly enough, organic wine is not that popular in the US.
Let’s find out why organic wines face a dilemma in the US and what you can do to drink more green.
What is Organic Wine?
Very simply, organic wines are produced with organically grown grapes. In order to have organically grown grapes, a vineyard manager must implement an entirely different set of practices to maintain their vines.
By the way, organic doesn’t imply that the wine doesn’t have additives. There is, in fact, a list of additives, including things like yeast, egg whites, and animal enzymes (like rennet in cheese) that are allowed in organic wines. Being organic doesn’t necessarily mean a wine is vegan.
What is the Dilemma with Organic Wine?
The dilemma with organic wines (and what sets them apart from other organic foods) is the importance of sulphur-dioxide (SO2) in the winemaking process. Perhaps you’ve seen a lot more European organic (called ‘bio’) wines and this is because Europe has a different definition of organic:
- USA: “a wine made from organically grown grapes without added sulfites”
- EUROPE & CANADA: “a wine made from organically grown grapes that may contain added sulfites”
Organic wines from the US must not add sulfites, which in most scenarios greatly reduces a wine’s shelf life and, in some cases, can substantially change the flavor. Wineries find themselves in a quandary because spending the time to make organically grown grapes is immediately lost because they use SO2 in the bottling line. Read more about sulfites in wine.
What are Non-Organic Wines?
Non-Organic wines can use chemicals like herbicides and fungicides in the vineyards and other additives (like sulfur or Mega Purple) in a wine. You’ll find most of the bizarre chemicals in non-organic wines are used in the vineyard. It is common to see pesticides and fungicides used in areas that are calm (low wind) and have more moisture in the air to cause fungal infections (perhaps close to a river, pond or lake). You’ll find many fungicides and pesticides being employed to kill invasive species. For instance, in Napa, a foreign bug called the glassy winged sharpshooter is a carrier of Pierce’s Disease. This particular disease basically turns vines into lepers with rotting leaves and eventually kills them.
Are Non-Organic Wines Really That Bad?
We were curious about what exactly vineyards are using and it turns out there is a reporting agency that tracks pesticide use in agricultural areas. We ran a zip code in Napa and were surprised to see over 30 different chemicals of varying toxicity being used in the area. After sifting through various chemical fact sheets, it seems like ground water contamination and toxicity to local watersheds are perhaps the 2nd greatest threat to conventional vineyards. Of course, we’re not experts. Besides that, we found a compelling story about Monty Waldin (writer of Best Biodynamic Wines) who attested first-hand to the lack of regulation in developing wine countries like Chile and Portugal that have made even vineyard workers ill. In mentioning this topic to our wine peers, another story turned up about a winery in Southern France that was found guilty of pesticide poisoning of one of their workers. In other words, chemicals = bad.
How To Drink More Green
Fortunately there is a solution that drinkers of American wines should know about and it’s called ‘Made with Organically Grown Grapes’. These little words on a bottle are your ticket to drinking more green for two reasons:
- Wines is made with grapes from Certified Organic vineyards
- Wines must contain less than 100 ppm sulfites (good!)