Breakout In The Organic Ghetto

The other day, I had an argument with a prominent importer of artisanal, organic and biodynamic wines. We asked him to advertise with the Organic Wine Journal so our readers can find his wines. He was having none of it. He had three arguments. First, his producers were selling all their wine so they did not need to change their message. Second, they were tradition bound and that change of any kind would fly in the face of family practices going back generations. The third reason was the shocker. “I don’t want them confined in the organic ghetto.”

The organic ghetto. Words that still ring in my ears. I explained the case of organic milk. There’s such a demand now that no one can keep up. Dairies that have converted to organic farming are getting prices double or more than being paid to the hormone-laden antibiotic infused farms. Billion dollar corporations are vying for shelf space in the organic milk market market because their own research showed that parents did not want a toxic mix of chemicals to be in their children’s bodies.

For some strange reason, there is resistance on the part of the organic wine industry to tell its consumers positive good news. To label their wine as organic or biodynamic, to market it as such and to pressure restaurant into revealing the organic choices on their wine lists.

The reason often stated is that a lot of organic wine is not very good and some wine drinkers may have had a bad experience. It’s easy to fall for this if you don’t reflect a little. Who hasn’t had a bad experience drinking conventional wine? Who hasn’t sipped some factory blended Frankenwine and shuddered. Did that stop anyone from drinking wine ever again? Of course not. It only hastened the search for better tasting, better drinking higher quality wines. Who hasn’t had a bad date? Did that end your search for a mate?

By the end of the conversation I got a little like Isaiah and prophesized that a tipping point was coming where conventional wine would be shunned. I told him about the pesticides found in conventional wine, which he knew about and said “that’s all everyone talked about last week in France.” I even said his producers would suffer economically if they did not shout out their organic methods for all to hear.

The call soon ended and I had no support. Yet, going forward I am confident that one day we will. The forces all around us are demanding truthful labeling of everything we eat and drink. Wine lovers are also becoming earth lovers, body lovers (their own) and biosphere lovers. The days of ingesting poison with your fermented grapes and poisoning the world around you is coming to an end.

The irony is that there are wine makers out there hiding their true souls and it’s just silly. Like the fall of the Berlin wall the breakout from the organic ghetto is coming, and it will be very dramatic.


8 responses to “Breakout In The Organic Ghetto”

  1. Hi, I’m the importer you had the conversation with. I never said points one and point two. You never asked me to advertise, although you did tell me how much money was to be made by pushing ORGANIC and how much money you have made in previous careers and how you wouldn’t be in the ORGANIC business if there was not money to be made. While I always admire someone who publishes a polemic with an anonymous opponent, at least you might get the facts straight.

    I did talk about an organic ghetto — that is I like organic wines because it is potentially a way to make better wines. But it is only one link in the chain….bad clones in irrigated lava in Napa Valley made with innoculated yeasts are still crappy wines, whether certified organic or not. Makinng great wine is inherently complicated and ORGANIC is but one element. You can use innoculated yeasts and be ORGANIC, you can machine harvest and be ORGANIC, you can plant the wrong grape variety in horrible terroir and be ORGANIC, you can make horrible wine and be ORGANIC.

    Frankly, whenever someone calls me to tell me how much money we can make working with them, I get suspicious. I get enough e-mails from Nigeria and children of deposed tyrants who have 15 million dollars for me, that perhaps I have gotten cynical.

    But using all the hard work of vignerons to make a buck by turning ORGANIC into a dollar making rallying call seems more than cynical. Let’s hope that PT Barnum does not turn out to be right on this matter.

    Joe Dressner
    Louis/Dressner Selections

  2. Joe is completely correct on this – organic means nothing if the philosophy isn’t carried throughout the processing of the grapes. Even biodynamic is falling prey to the marketing urge. I have a Demeter certified farm, but when I read about other biodynamic vineyards in the press, I haven’t a clue what they are talking about. What is being described is not the biodynamics I know and practice. Its usually that far off the mark.
    Biodynamic, like organic, is a TOOL with which we grow (hopefully) fabulous raw materials with with we make (hopefully) fabulous wines. The key is to preserve the fabulous raw materials and not turn it into a parody of itself. Organic (or biodynamic) is meaningless outside of the context. You might as well say “shovel” or “barrel”.

  3. Hi, We have a certified organic winery in Western Australia’s Swan Valley and we find the above argument interesting. Here in Australia the conventional wine industry has been brow-beaten into homogeneity by exporters and industry-sponsored wine judges who reject any wine that does not taste how they have decided it should. This means that the wines of large corporations suffer from BORING SAMENESS while small vineyard/wineries such as ours, who are not into making formulaic wines get rejected in shows because they have TOO MUCH flavour, character and colour! While the dumbing-down of wine for mass consumption is as unavoidable as MacDonalds or Coca-Cola, it is still up to intelligent individuals to insist that they do not want to imbibe mass-produced, sweetened, poisonous crap – while the best thing that organic wine producers can do is to continue to make the best wine they can without environmentally or biologically harmful additives. Importers who profit from organic and biodynamic producers (such as Mssr Dressner) should be praising the efforts of individual organic producers rather than bagging them all together with shonky operators which are surely in the minority.

  4. Joe, now that you outed yourself we can continue our discussion in public. You are knowlegeable and know wine much better than I ever will, your wines taste great, drink well and I’m sure are the best you could find. With so much excess wine in the world I can’t imagine bothering to import wine of a lesser god.

    Thus my plea to you, and everyone else, is: on top of my trust in you ,tell me that the wine is organic/biodynamic so that I can help heal the earth. It’s not about ME, it is about the earth worms, the birds, the insects and the floura that grows between the rows. Of course organic is not a cure all for wine quality, but it is for the workers in the field and their chilldren who can live a non-toxic life. It is cure for the streams and drinking water, so that we don’t drink poison with evey glass. Vintners and importers and distributors who do not go Organic are doing no one any favors.

    Joe you are the best at what you do, and we at OWJ are just trying to support great winemaking the same way you are. By the way, if you call me I can get you a discount on some ad space. I know the publisher. jr

  5. Simon Marlow Avatar
    Simon Marlow

    THe dialogue is BRILLIANT….the issue from my perspective is that wines are frequently assessed…and often purchased… based on their ratings.

    Maybe there should be a bonus for those that are not going to pickle your insides.

    Or even, to borrow something from our Jewish friends who drink wines that are Kosher for Passover, a logo that says we drink Organic Wines for Life.

  6. I would advertise, but frankly Paul Chartrand is a far more attractive guy than I am. I hate to drive people away from your web site.

    I agree with Hank’s comments.

  7. Adam Morganstern Avatar
    Adam Morganstern

    I think Messrs Dressner and Russo have much more in common in the grand scheme of things, but this conversation does bring up some important ideas for our magazine. We started the Organic Wine Journal because we were truly drawn to these great wines that were made by organic/biodynamic/natural/whateveryouwanttocallit methods.

    And as a new magzine we are still trying to define ourselves. If you are an importer, like Joe is, it’s easy to define yourself simply by the wines you choose to represent. He calls his selections “real wines” which he admits may not have an exact definition but is close to the “spirit” of wine he enjoys.

    We chose the word “Organic” for our wine journal, because we too thought it represented the spirit of wines we wanted to promote. Turns out, the word “organic” does not simplify things at all. There are certification issues, questionable winemaking techniques and, most importantly, quality issues to contend with.

    So we lay out the terms for our readers so they can navigate this world and come to their own conclusions. As our magazine grows, we will define ourselves by the articles we print and the wines we cover.

    Joe Dressner has his own blog, the Wine Importer, where he describes in much more detail what he feels about his wines and his desire not to caught up in “movements.” Definitely worth reading.

  8. […] stores. Some prefer a separate section, while others loathe the idea of winding up in the “organic ghetto.” Many winemakers feel if they make a Bordeaux wine they should be in the Bordeaux section, […]

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