Organic Wine 101
By Jennifer Dent | August 5th, 2014
Organic, organic, organic.
Yes, you know you should eat organic food, but what about drinking organic wine?
I didn’t really have much knowledge on this topic so I reached out to Ann Rabin Arnold, founder of Organic Wine Exchange. Jumping at a chance to educate people on the benefits of organic wine, she graciously agreed to answer my questions. Enjoy reading Ann’s informative interview about organic wine.
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE IDEA FOR THE ORGANIC WINE EXCHANGE?
Organic Wine Exchange started with a passion for wine that began with my grandfather in 1938. When I decided to venture into my own business and find wineries to represent on-line I realized that not only was my passion for organic wines under represented in the retail world, but so were the wineries and winemakers. I felt compelled to help tell their story and sell their wines in order for them to prosper for years to come.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO KNOW ABOUT ORGANIC WINE VERSUS NON-ORGANIC WINE?
The important thing to know is that both of these types are Pesticides, Herbicide and Fungicides free, whereas the non-organic counterparts use these chemicals in the vineyard. This is what most consumers want to avoid when they are reaching for a product that is certified organic.
There is also a long list of chemical additives that can be added to wine to alter the taste, texture, color, aroma and more. Currently it is not required to list these additives on and ingredient section on the label as the food industry is required to do. This is where a lot of consumer confusion comes into play, as most label conscious readers assume that their wine is only made of fermented grapes. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth.
HOW CAN WE TELL IF A WINE IS ORGANIC?
It is not as simple and one may like it to be. The first thing to learn is that the there is more to the world of organic wine than “Organic” and “Non-organic”. There is also a “Made with Organic Grapes” category. The main reason for this distinction is that the final product is a two-step process: Grape Growing and Wine Making.
Organic Wine: This means that the winery is certified in the vineyard AND the winery. When a wine is certified in the winery, then they have not added sulfites to their wine, and have less then 10ppm (parts per million) in naturally occurring sulfites. A certified organic wine has the round USDA symbol on it.
Made with Organic Grapes: Essentially, it is made with not synthetic vineyard chemicals. The same standards as organic fruit and vegetables you purchase in the market. This category does not get a symbol but it gets the USDA approved terminology “Made with Organic Grapes”. It is usually in very small print on the front or back of the label according to TTB standards. In Europe they allow wines to have up to 100ppm sulfites and still be called “Organic Wine”. However when their wines come to the U.S. they have to change the label to “Made with Organic Grapes” which allows up to 100ppm sulfites.
Both categories are certified in the vineyard by a 3rd party agency. Each state and/or country has its own certifying agency. For example, In California a vineyard is often certified CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers), in Oregon it’s Organic Tilth, in Europe there is EcoCert, EU Organic, Agriculture Biologique and the list goes on. For reassurance, many of these certification logos will be on the back wine label.
After a vineyard and winery has passed the certification process they present it to the USDA and per the specifications above they will be allowed to put the USDA symbol or the “Made with Organic Grapes” term on their label.
There is another certification offered by “Demeter” which certifies a vineyard and/or winery “Biodynamic”. It is another very trustworthy way to purchase a wine free of vineyard chemicals.
Read more here.
ORGANIC WINE ISN’T READILY AVAILABLE IN ALL AREAS. HOW CAN WE GET IT?
Organic Wine Exchange was developed to fill this niche. We discovered that most grocery and wine stores did not have organic sections. Those that did where usually the stores focused on organic foods. We also noticed that even the organic foods based stores only carried a few varietals of a particular brand, as they did not have the shelf space to carry more. At Organic Wine Exchange we find producers we believe in, then represent their entire line up. Every few months we continue to add more wines.
SOME OF OUR FAVORITE BUDGET WINE REPORTEDLY HAVE HARMFUL ADDITIVES. CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THAT?
Additives come in all forms. Just as many food items add chemical components to enhance flavor, aroma, color and texture, so can wine. The only difference is that wine and other alcoholic beverages do not have to label it. Many wineries fear that the list of additives, especially those that are non harmful but have intimidating names may turn consumers off from buying their products. An argument against this is that there are many very unfamiliar names on the ingredient lists of foods and it does not stop people from buying those foods. Additionally, if a truly concerned label reader wanted to, they could take the time to find out that some of these additives are harmless. It’s all about disclosing information to the public and giving them the chance to make their own educated decision.
The good news is that even organic wines can be budget friendly. Organic Wine Exchange has over 20 wines in the $9-15 dollar range.
WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH SULFITES?
Sulfites get a bad rap because they are the only thing people can intelligently read on the label. However they are not the main culprit to consumer’s aliments when drinking wine.
One of the reasons sulfites are on the label is because there are people who are deathly allergic to them. People who are allergic to sulfites have similar reactions to people who are allergic to peanuts (hives or extreme breathing problems). There are some people who have sensitivities and who will get mild versions of these symptoms.
Unfortunately, wines do not have to state how many sulfites they put into their wine. You will notice that wines do not have a Nutrition Facts label to list the “Parts per Million” (ppm) of sulfites used like they list fats, sugar, sodium, calories, etc. on food. The only text you will see is: “Contains Sulfites” or “No Added Sulfites”.
When used in reasonable amounts sulfites are the least of things to worry about. Typically, adverse reactions to wine come from the vineyard chemicals, winemaking additives or histamines in the red grape skin.
Wine is not the only product that contains sulfites. You will be surprised how many food and medications contain them too. If you are still not convinced about sulfites, try eating a dried fruit such as dried or canned fruits or veggies or take note if you get allergic reactions to any of the foods on this list. If you are able to consume these products and medications with ease then most likely you are not allergic to sulfites.
More and more people are becoming intolerant to wines these days just as they are to many food products. This is a wake up call and should send a clear message to those wine consumers that are developing new allergies and find that they can no longer drink wines symptom free, when in the past they had no problems with wine.
Organic Wine: No Sulfites Added
Made with Organic Grapes: up to 100 ppm
Non-Organic Wine: up to 350ppm
(Note: this does not mean the respective categories use the entire allowance)
ORGANIC WINE EXCHANGE IS A SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS COMPANY. TELL US ABOUT YOUR MISSION TO GIVE BACK.
We decided that giving back to the community was going to be part of Organic Wine Exchange business model from the beginning. From my accumulation of 76 years of family history in the wine business, I noticed how much a wine played an active roll in charitable fundraising. Most fundraising events include wine sales or wine as part of the ticket price. Our goal is to help these agencies raise as much money as possible for their cause.
FUN FACT! WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE WINE AND FOOD PAIRING?
Zinfandels are probably one of my favorites wines because they are so versatile. They are big and jammy and range from having bold fruit flavors like boysenberry and currants to being spicy and peppery at the same time. I enjoy them with a large assortment of grilled meats, aged cheeses and often like them with nice dark chocolate deserts too.
Thank you Ann for shedding some light on the murky topic of organic vs. non-organic wine.