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Why organic wine?

(post, Anu Karwa)

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April is Earth Month and a perfect time to learn about organic wines and their kissing cousins, biodynamic, natural and sustainable wines - and why they're important. And finally, we answer the age-old question about sulfites.

Why is the organic wine movement important: Grapes are some of the most heavily sprayed items and they have thin skins, so having a more "green" option is welcome! Also, we think of wine as something straight from the soil and vines and a somewhat more natural beverage than things like soda, cocktails, etc. But it's surprising to learn how tampered with wine can be. These alternatives help assure us that our wine is a more direct connection from grape to glass.

What do all these words mean? There seems to be overlaps and confusion between all the "green" words out there whether it's with produce or wine. Let's clear some of those up:

Sustainable Wine: This is a term that unfortunately been abused by marketers so be aware. There's no legal definition for this. But true sustainable farmers and winemakers try to create a product that's been made in a way that allows the vineyard to continue to produce in a way that isn't harmful for future generations and production. It's a philosophy that minimizes soil erosion, depletion of soil nutrients, water pollution, etc. It's a holistic approach.

Organic: A wine that is labeled organic and has the USDA Organic Seal is made without chemical pesticides and artificial fertilizers.

Biodynamic: I think of this as extreme organic. Follows same principles as organic wine but adds a whole other layer. It's a holistic approach to winemaking. Biodynamic farmers view the vineyard as a part of an entire system - animals, other crops, with emphasis on balance between all the elements. The whole "farm" or vineyard should be self-sustaining so there is a lot of composting and not using chemicals. It also involves farming according to a lunar calendar.

"Natural" wines: Again, this is more a philosophy that says "don't tamper with the wine!" But what it entails is not adding sulfites or additives. The shocker here is what others are adding - wood chips, colorants, acidifiers, de-acidifiers, de-alcoholization, etc. commercial yeasts, enzymes, tannin powders, heavy fining or filtration that is hardly sustainable. Even when a wine is labeled Organic it doesn't mean that all of this other stuff can't happen.

And the age old question: What's the deal with sulfites?
Yeasts naturally produce sulfites during the fermentation process. Sulfites act as a form of preservatives for wine, allowing it a longer shelf life. Conventional wines are allowed to have 350 parts per million of sulfites. Organic wines have less with a maxium of 100 parts per million of sulfites.