Organic wine… It’s a trip. If you take one thing from this, just know that while organic is great, it isn’t always necessarily better. It’s important to remember how important it is to support our growing local vineyards (Especially the growing industry in Virginia). Many of them are following organic or mostly organic processes and are simply unrecognized for it because they aren’t paying to be certified organic. As always though, at the end of the day, drink what you like!
Below is a quick summary of the certified organic wine process in the United States. Requirements vary from country to country. If organic is a priority when buying internationally, I’d do a quick internet search of what “organic” actually is for that wine.
The process to create certified organic wine is two-fold. First, the grapes have to be grown organic. Following that, their conversion to drinkable wine must also be certified. From the beginning, the grapes cannot be grown with synthetic fertilizers. Additionally, anything going into the wine, such as the yeast to trigger fermentation, also must be certified organic. And sulfites? (Boy, is that a topic for another day.) Sulfites cannot be added to any certified organic wine. Remember though, sultfites are not the cause for a hangover or wine headache. Alcohol is the cause of that, unless you’re the unlucky 1% with a sulfite sensitivity. Any non-agricultural products also cannot exceed 5% of the finished product.
To be certified organic, the production of the wine must also be generally overseen by an “organic certifying agent.” This can be expensive and time consuming for winemakers. Because of this, keep in mind that many wineries–especially local wineries–do produce organic wine. It just isn’t certified organic or labeled. Feel free to ask about the winemaking process at your favorite vineyard. You may be pleasantly surprised.
But wait, there’s more! There’s also wine that can be certified as with organic grapes. In this case, the requirements are pretty much the same, with a few minor exceptions. The yeast and wine making process does not have to be certified organic. Additionally, sulfites can be added, though no more than 100 parts per million in the finished product.
Want to do a deep dive into all the requirements of organic wine? You can find the official USDA fact sheet here.