At its most basic level, organic wine is made from grapes that have been grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides.
At The Winery
Winemaking techniques should be organic as well; little or no manipulation of wines by reverse osmosis, excessive filtration, or flavor additives (such as oak chips). Many organic winemakers also prefer wild yeasts for fermentation.
The Role Of Certification
When a label says “organic,” it means the wine has met certain standards that are set by a government agency. Different nations have their own certification criteria, so what’s organic in one country may not be so in another.
Many wineries that are technically organic still choose not to be certified. There are many reasons for this. Some do not want the added costs and bureaucracy of registering. Others may disagree with their government’s standards. It can also be a marketing decision. Whatever the case, they are not allowed to use “organic” on their labels.
The use of added sulfites is debated heavily within the organic winemaking community. Many vintners favor their use, in extremely small quantities, to help stabilize wines, while others frown on them completely.
In the United States, wines labeled “organic” cannot contain added sulfites. Wines that have added sulfites, but are otherwise organic, are labeled “wine made from organic grapes.”
Biodynamic winemaking follows the teachings of Austrian anthroposophist Rudolph Steiner (1861-1925), and incorporates homeopathic treatments, as well as astronomical and astrological considerations, into the organic process.
Although there are no set standards, wineries that take the ecology of the vineyard into account, and try to minimize chemical treatments and energy use, are called sustainable. Some jokingly refer to themselves as “organic unless something goes wrong.” While we applaud all efforts to be more responsible, the Organic Wine Journal will not be focusing on sustainable wineries.