Organic wine you say… well, I eat organic produce, buy organic grains, think about grass-fed meat and make a conscious choice to purchase local goods, but I never thought too much about my wine. This was my exact line of thinking when I first got introduced to organic wine about 3 years ago. To my knowledge I never heard about it before, never noticed it on the shelves or on a wine menu, but it did pose a good question… why I am not concerned about my wine?
Grapes are actually one of the most highly sprayed fruits, completely contaminated with health-compromising pesticides, and wine is made by the mass concentration of hundreds of grapes… so we can only imagine the amount of pesticides that we are consuming with each glass. So fortunately our dear wine makers have stepped up to the plate and have begun moving towards, or completely adopting, the practice of making their wine 100% organic without compromising the taste while providing us with one of our favorite indulgences that happens to have quite a few health-promoting qualities as well!
What is Organic Wine Exactly?
First and foremost, it’s a wine made from certified organically grown grapes. The fundamental idea behind organic wine is that making wine from grapes grown without pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers is clearly better for our planet AND therefore, better for you, the wine drinker.
Why Should we Care about Choosing Organic?
Well, let’s take a look at the alternative. Conventional wines are the result of conventional agricultural practices. These were adopted in large part after WWII and rely heavily on chemicals. The problem with that approach is that these chemicals damage the soil, the vine, the air, the water, the farmers, and all of us down the road. Not only that, this approach triggers a destructive cycle of poisoning. Pesticides, herbicides and fungicides throw the natural harmony of the vineyard completely off balance. Chemical fertilizers strip the soil of minerals essential to its health, thus necessitating an ever-increasing reliance on artificial inputs to restore what has been lost without ever finding the natural balance again.
There is an enormous amount of scientific evidence documenting how pesticides, weed killers, fungicides and other chemical substances damage the soil and the plant, its fruits and everyone else in their path. The link to an increase in cancers among workers is now obvious. Grapes are no exception and wine is merely liquid grapes. Make no mistake, grapes are one of the most heavily sprayed crops around. When systemic pesticides are sprayed on the grapes to protect them from disease, they can end up as minute residues in the wine.
Thankfully, there is the long term approach, namely, organic farming. There is absolutely no question that organic farming methods are better for the Earth and all of her inhabitants. They are based on traditional, common sense farming methods which are not harmful to people or the environment. Like the Chinese acupuncturist, the organic farmer’s primary objective is balance. Therefore, the key to the success of organic farming is maintaining a balanced, fertile soil. Why? Because a healthy soil will produce a healthy plant capable of fighting off disease.
Instead of chemical fertilizers, they spread manure or algae in the vineyards. Instead of spraying pesticides, they promote biodiversity. That means growing plants other than vines in and around the vineyard. Why? Because biodiversity helps regulate the vineyard soil by attracting beneficial flora and fauna into the vineyards, such as insects, spiders and predatory mites. Cover crops provide shelter and food (pollen, nectar) to “beneficial bugs” which decreases/replaces the need for insecticides or pesticides.
What cannot be fully controlled through biodiversity can still be managed organically, through the use of naturally occurring plant or mineral extracts, which leave no residues in the soil. As for weeds, they let them grow, and they mow periodically so that the cut weeds decompose back into the ground, thus providing organic fertilizer. Needless to say this approach is much more labor-intensive than the conventional quick fixes. In fact, it costs on average 20% more per unit, and the yield will be less. But it is most certainly worth the cost!
Okay, Organic Wines are Better for me and the Earth, but really… How do they Taste?
Just like conventional wine, organic wines have a huge range in depth and flavor that therefore depends on your personal preferences but all-in-all they are much cleaner! They are made the same way, but with sustainable and healthy practices, allowing the grape to fully express itself.
Nowadays, French organic wines show up consistently among the top ten best wines of any region where they are represented, being cited in magazines as the most innovative, interesting and personalized products around. One theory for their outstanding quality is that organic vineyards have more natural resistance to poor weather or pestilence, and therefore tend to perform better than non-organic ones. Additionally, many organic vineyards hand pick their grapes, rather than using mechanical pickers. This allows only the ripest and healthiest bunches to be picked, with the minimum amount of stress/damage to the vine, fruit or soil. Secondly, many people notice that they do not cause the same allergic-like reaction as conventional wines do… a definite plus.
Do Organic Wines have to be Sulfite-Free?
Absolutely not. In fact, it is actually impossible to have 100% sulfite-free wine because all grape skins contain fermenting yeasts that create naturally occurring sulfites. Totally sulfite-free wines are therefore an accident of nature but wines low in sulfites or free of added sulfites do exist.
Are Sulfites Necessary?
Sulfur has been used as a preservative in winemaking for quite some time. To prevent wine spoilage, European winemakers pioneered the use of sulfur dioxide (SO2) two hundred years ago. Unfortunately, freshly pressed grape juice has a tendency to oxidize and spoil due to contamination from bacteria and wild yeasts present on the grape skins. Not only does sulfur dioxide inhibit the growth of molds and bacteria, but it also stops oxidation (browning) and preserves the wine’s natural flavor.
Although technical advances permit the industry to add much less sulfur, most serious winemakers and enology professors concur that to make a consistently stable wine, some sulfites must be added to those naturally present which are not chemically active. A handful of winemakers go beyond that: They use no added sulfites at all. However, sulfite agents, when properly handled and kept to reasonable levels, are not intrinsically toxic to humans or to the environment, and many feel they are essential in order to prevent oxidation or bacterial spoilage. Therefore, American and European organic winemaking standards allow for the addition of strictly regulated amounts of sulfites.
For those who are sensitive to sulfites, drinking organic wine can actually help, because organic wine does not contain the other chemicals which cause immune reactions in the body. But a helpful tip would be to increase your B vitamin and sulfur intake because they are needed for liver detoxification. In cases of hypersensitivity, typically it is the cause of a congested liver.
What about Vegan Wines?
My first response to this question was, “There are animal products in wine?” And the answer is yes and no. Animal products are used for the fining process (used to remove “off” tastes and to prevent cloudiness) of wine making, but are then filtered out at the end so that there are technically no animal products left in the wine. Fining works by electrostatic attraction, if the element in the wine that needs to be removed has a negative charge, then a fining agent with a positive charge will be added. The fining agent acts as a magnet and collects the unwanted matter in the wines which sinks to the bottom of the tank. The then clear wine is racked or decanted off the sediment into a clean tank. Since the wine is finally filtered at the time of bottling, no traces of the fining agents (made of long molecular chains) are left in the finished product. Fining agents of animal origin commonly used are egg whites, egg albumin, casein (milk protein), gelatin (derived from animal bones) and isinglass (derived from fish).
So in order for a wine to be Vegan, the winemakers actually use bentonite clay, diatomaceous earth, carbon and kaolin in the fining process instead of the animal products, making sure that it is 100% animal-free.
Why is Organic Wine Healthier for you?
All wine contains the powerful antioxidant Resveratrol, but they now know that conventional wine has 80% LESS resveratrol than organic wine. Resveratrol occurs in grapes as a defense compound produced in a process known as systemic acquired resistance, or SAR. SAR in plants produces many types of defense compounds and is caused by low to medium levels of pathogen and insect attack. Organically grown crops have SAR induction occurring on a regular basis, since organic farmers do not use pesticides, so they have to rely on their own defenses for survival, therefore increasing their resveratrol content.
Resveratrol is a compound found in red grapes, which has been shown to be beneficial to our health by lowering cholesterol, activating our “longevity gene – SIR 2,” repairing DNA strand breaks, reversing arterial damage, acting as an anti-inflammatory agent, containing chemoprotective properties, clearing the cells of DNA debris up to 60%, and has even shown to cause apoptosis,”self-induced death,” in cancer cells.
Furthermore, organic crops contained significantly more vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus and significantly less nitrates than conventional crops.
The Organic Wine List!
Lolonis Petros Red Proprietary Blend 1998 Redwood Valley
Yorkville Cellars Malbec 1999 Mendocino
Bonterra Viognier 2001 Mendocino
Ceago Kathleen Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2001 Mendocino
Jeriko Estate Chardonnay 2000 Mendocino
Barra of Mendocino Petite Sirah 1999 Mendocino
Château Bousquette St.-Chinian 1999 Languedoc France
Madonna Estate-Mont St. John CellarsPinot Noir 1999 Napa
Madonna Estate-Mont St. John Cellars Chardonnay 2000 Napa
Staglin Family Vineyards Chardonnay 2000 Napa
Benziger Winery (California)
Grgich Hills (California)
Frey Syrah 2001 Mendocino
Frey Petite Sirah 2000 Mendocino
Frog’s Leap (California)
Summerhill Pyramid Winery (Canada)
Robinvale Organic Wines (Australia)
Richmond Plains (New Zealand)
Kawarau Estate (New Zealand)
Temple Bruer Winery (Australia)
Nuova Cappelletta (Italy)
Bodega Hermanos Delgado (Spain)
Badger Mountain Vineyard (Washington)
Snoqualmie Wines also has an organic line of remarkable wines
The Organic Wine Company – Key importer of Organic French Wines
Organic Vintners – Importers of internationally produced Organic Wines
Print this list out, keep it with you and begin to explore the endless possibilities of organic wines!
Do you have any favorites?
≈ For more healthy living tips, recipes and inspiration please subscribe to this blog on the top left of the homepage, follow me on Twitter, on Pinterest and Join the THK health conversation on Facebook!
♥ To our Health and Happiness!