Monday, July 27, 2009

Organic Wine

I must admit that I enjoy a glass or two of wine every once in a while, but I have not quite taken the leap into "organic" wines. I am interested in learning more though and I hope some of you are too. Here is some of an article I came across at EatingWell, a website I like to visit for healthy recipes.

Once a funky duckling, “organic” is suddenly the prize golden goose of food and beverage marketing, so it comes as no surprise to find environment-conscious labels in every aisle of the supermarket. In the wine section, the new designations range from “sustainably farmed,” “biodynamic” and “responsibly grown” to “environmentally friendly.” What’s a “green” enophile to do?

Certainly, some of these terms are bottle-dressing only, but it is clear that there is a groundswell of change in the world of winemaking, with what many feel are positive adjustments in viticulture practices.

The informed consumer should know, however, that there is only one term that guarantees that some sort of standards—federally mandated ones—have been applied: “Organic.”

Behind the Label
“Organic” means that a product has been certified by a licensed third-party organization and has been grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, then harvested, processed and packaged according to rigorous standards. The other “green” labels, nice as they sound, are not regulated.

Organic viticulturists focus on improving the health of their soil so that the entire vineyard ecosystem benefits and vines are less likely to fall victim to diseases or pests. Farmers plant cover crops to fix nitrogen, increase beneficial bacteria and aerate the soil. “Good” bugs like ladybugs and spiders boom as soil health improves. Bird boxes placed around vineyards foster hawk and owl populations, which help keep gophers to a minimum. Compost, often made of grape skins, is added to increase nutrients.

Interestingly, some wineries that employ organic practices are opting to forgo organic labeling entirely. For example, all the vineyards of Rubicon Estate (formerly Niebaum-Coppola) are certified organic, but you won’t find that anywhere on its bottles. Rubicon says the vineyard uses “organic” not as a marketing tool, but to promote “good stewardship” of the land. Fetzer, Frog’s Leap, Kenwood and all the Foster Wine Estates, including the giant Beringer, are among the growing number of California wineries that have committed to sustainable farming techniques, but are not moving toward full “organic” certification.

To understand why, it helps to know that growing grapes organically is just one piece of the puzzle; wine also has to be produced and bottled to organic standards. This leads directly to the question of sulfites, the traditional preservatives used to prolong the life and taste of wines (and of many dried fruits).

Sulfites, in fact, occur naturally in wine (they are a by-product of fermentation). Conventional winemakers also add small amounts to prevent oxidation and thus preserve the wine. More specifically, sulfites bind natural chemical components that could otherwise produce unappealing aromas. By law, any wine sold as “certified organic” cannot contain added sulfites.

Many environmentally aware vintners still feel strongly that they need to add a controlled amount of sulfites to produce a consistent, shelf-stable product, so they are opting for this designation: “Made with organically grown grapes.”

The Taste Test
The EatingWell wine panel waded into this fray with a tasting of wines labeled “organic” as well as “made with organically grown grapes.” We were pleasantly surprised to find organic wines widely available, at big supermarket chains as well as local natural-foods stores. But we approached our task with some skepticism; not only is the category small, it has been plagued with a reputation for wines of questionable quality. Our skepticism was justified; there were fewer wines that wowed us than is usual at our tastings. As it turned out, all our picks were “made with organically grown grapes.”

Our conclusion? This category may need a few more years to mature and consistently produce high-quality wines. For now, however, here are some ready for prime time, especially if you want to cast a pro-environment vote when you raise a glass of wine.

The article goes on to list the authors' organic picks. Read more...

I will also try to do some taste testing myself and let you know what I think. After all, just as I try to support environmentally conscious, organic meat, dairy and produce farmers, I should be doing the same with my wine.



1 comment:

Hanlie said...

I'm a wine-lover myself, but rarely have wine these days...

Thanks for the interesting article. It's good to know the difference between organic wine and wine made from organically grown grapes. I'd go for the latter, since I only rarely have wine and it should therefore be the best-tasting wine I can find. Having said that, I'm quite sensitive to sulfur dioxide.

This blog is for informational purposes only. Nothing in this blog is intended to replace the advice of a physician. We recommend consulting a physician before embarking on diet changes or a fitness routine. In addition, we recommend that you thoroughly research alternate points of view and make your own decisions as an informed consumer. You are ultimately responsible for your health.