The Basics of Organic Wine: Brands and What to Know

Posted by on Dec 21, 2012 in Uncategorized | 1 comment

The Basics of Organic Wine: Brands and What to Know

These days, I've been seeing more and more about organic foods in general. Health-conscious people are standing up and taking notice of what 'organic' can do for them.

And as a sommelier, I get a lot of questions about organic wine.

Is it healthier?

Is it better for me?

Does it taste better than non-organic wine?

Well, today I'd like to spend some time and clear up the big questions around organic wine. It's worth knowing about, but keep in mind that organic production is a new thing and still in its infancy. It will need some time to fully get established.

But, that doesn't mean there aren't some delicious organic wines out there for you. At the end, I'll tell you my personal organic wine brand recommendations.

Let's get to it!


What is Organic Wine?

Organic wine has to be made in accordance with the guidelines set out by USDA organic standards.

Here's what they require:

  • Organic wine has to be produced using approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.

And what does that mean?

Firstly, to achieve the organic label, a vineyard will be looking at most of their practices. Mechanical practices like irrigation require attention. Same goes for biological concerns that might include pesticide use. And lastly, cultural practices play a part too, which could include a vineyard's employees.

The goals are to cycle resources for more efficient production, to preserve ecological balance so that wine production does not affect the surrounding ecosystem too drastically, and to conserve biodiversity so that cohabitating plants and animals aren't too inconvenienced.

Specifically, organic wine production cannot use:

  • Petroleum-based fertilizers
  • Sewage sludge-based fertilizers
  • Ionizing radiation
  • Genetic engineering, for example GMO grapes


What Qualifies a Brand of Wine to be Organic?

Technically, wine producers have 4 levels of 'organic-ness' they can qualify for. It's not just marketing hocus-pocus when one wine is called "100% organic" and another is "made with organic ingredients." These are different wines.

Wine: 100% Organic – Grapes produced for this level of organic wine are all 100% organically grown. The wine itself is made with only other organic ingredients. Sulphites are not added.

Wine: Organic – Just 95% of the ingredients have to be from organic sources for something to be labelled as 'organic.' Again, no sulphites are added.

Wine: Made With Organic Ingredients – At this level, just 70% of the grapes have to be organic. Ingredients may include added sulphites.

Wine: Some Organic Ingredients – This label is reserved for those wines that have included some organic ingredients, but not enough to qualify for anything more. Less than 70% of the ingredients in a bottle labelled as "some organic ingredients" are actually organic.

So, do these requirements really exclude that many wines? Turns out they do.

Many wines will use sulphur dioxide, yeasts, egg white gases, or bentonite in the production process. That excludes them, right from the beginning.

However, some wine producers will try for a work-around by including organically grown grapes. This may qualify the wine for the "Some Organic Ingredients" label, but it certainly doesn't make the wine "organic".

Though, it does mean the grapes were produced in a more environmentally respectful way, which is still great news.

Always look for the certifying agency's label on the wine bottle.

As a final note, sulphites are often a different story. The wine label will indicate if the wine 'contains sulphites" or if it's "sulphite free."


Quick Questions About Organic Wine

Is organic wine healthier?

Yes, it's healthier for you and the planet. It's produced in a more sustainable way, and will not include synthetic and potentially damaging pesticides. That means healthier in my book.

Is organic wine more expensive?

Usually, yes. Unfortunately.

It takes more for a winery to produce organic wine. Material costs, labor costs, and land upkeep costs can all be higher.

Does organic wine taste better?

That depends entirely on who made the wine. It's easier to make a great-tasting wine the Classical way, definitely. But, many wine producers are taking leaps and bounds forward to make a better-tasting organic wine in a way that's business-friendly as well as environmentally-friendly.


Organic Wine Brands to Know

California Organic Wineries


Washington State Organic Wineries


British Columbia Organic Wineries


Ontario Organic Wineries


Australia Organic Wineries


New Zealand Organic Wineries


Italy Organic Wineries


Chile Organic Wineries


Argentina Organic Wineries


About Dave Keighron

Dave Keighron has written 63 posts in this blog.

One Comment

  1. 1-24-2013

    Thanks for includ­ing us in your arti­cle. We did want to men­tion, so peo­ple can find us eas­ier, that the winery’s name is Grgich Hills Estate.


    Ken Mor­ris
    Grgich Hills Estate

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