The Future of Organic Wine

LA-Times-USDA-organic-SquareWhile many people were busy cleaning our their refrigerators from all the Thanksgiving leftovers, two passionate groups of people involved in the organic wine industry were gearing up for a meeting held by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) in Savannah, GA from Nov. 29 to Dec. 2.

At Friday’s vote, an impassioned debate arose whether the board was responsible for the allergic properties of sulfur dioxide. “‘Organic’ isn’t necessarily synonymous with an allergen–free zone,” pointed out NOSB chair Tracy Miedema. “Organic should be about agriculture, first and foremost.”

NOSB member Katrina Heinze saw the offering of USDA–labeled organic wines with or without sulfites as “an improvement in consumer choice.”

Other members countered that the additives are the concern, and that the USDA designation is the “best eco–label out there” to guide consumers to a product free of unnecessary ingredients. In the end, the motion was defeated, and wines with the USDA organic label will remain sulfate–free.  – Connect Savannah

At the end of the debate, the NOSB had voted down a petition to allow added sulfites in organic wine, by a vote of 9-5.  Thus the current standards will remain in place, and U.S. organic wine market will have to continue to recognize two categories: Wine “Made With Organic Grapes” and “Organic Wine”.  

As an overview, “Made with Organic Grapes” is the USDA approved verbiage for wines produced with organic grapes with the addition of no more than 100ppm sulfites in the “Wine Making” process.  “Organic Wine” is also produced with organic grapes, but may have no more than 10ppm measurable sulfites.  Both are recognized and approved by USDA standards, but the significant difference is that, “Organic Wine” is the only one that can bear the USDA Organic Logo.

Both sides have valid points.  There are those that are concerned that any additional added sulfites to wines will degrade the integrity of the USDA Organic label, and open the door to commercial players who are only concerned with using this leniency for marketing purposes.  On the other side, those winemakers that have full intention of using the USDA Organic label responsibly, feel that the “Organic Wine” category will not be able to grow in recognition or stature without the category being opened up to more wineries.

This should not feel like a gain or a loss for those parties involved, as it is evident they both have a similar goal of proving to the world that good wines can come from farming grapes organically.  Instead, this should be treated an opportunity to create something new.  After all, so many different certifying agencies are created in different states.  In California there is CCOF that certifies organic farms.  And in other states there are organizations like LiveSIP  and other Sustainable organizations, that make up the growing Sustainable category.  So why not create a national organization like CCOF that certifies organic farms and give the wines that are “Made with Organic Grapes” a symbol that can be recognized nations wide by consumers?

Maybe it is time to shift gears, and concentrate efforts on a brand new certifying agency, that will allow the wines “Made with Organic Grapes” to have a different symbol, and those that are considered “Organic Wine” can contain both symbols.  This could help define the differences between both styles of wine, yet keep them close enough to build a future together.

Although this may not be possible on the national level, it would surely give people and easy and trustworthy way to shop.  The truth is, symbols and certifications play a huge role in shopping these days.  For starters, it would prove to those suspicious shoppers that the words “Made with Organic Grapes” is not just a marketing ploy, and that it is truly an approved certification.  It would also help those busy shoppers, who do not have the time to research wine and just want to look on the label for an easy to identify symbol.

A new national certifying agency could also end this dispute between like-minded organic wine professionals, who instead of debating should be holding hands in the fact that they are all represent an important piece of the organic wine industry future.


If your have the time or just want some easily listening, check out the the 4 days of NOSB Videos here.