Organic or Just Stinky?

So you want organic wine, hunh? Well, since the federal government definition of organic food still is in flux, the wine business can hardly be blamed for being wobbly on its definition too.

But there are three broad categories to consider in talking about organic wine. First, many vineyards in America and elsewhere are organic; that is to say, no pesticides or herbicides are used in the vineyards. Secondly, there are a few American wineries are organic in that they make “organic” wine. In the U.S. that means they don’t use any sulfur or other preservatives in their production practices.

But in Europe, there is another definition; “organic” identified wines CAN use sulfur. Why? Because you can dig sulfur right out of the ground. It’s not some laboratory chemical, and it’s been in use in wine for two thousand or so years.

Sulfur’s purpose is to bond with the oxygen in a bottle of wine before the oxygen can bond with the wine, and destroy the wine’s fruitiness. Most wines that have no sulfur added are not particularly stable, and they don’t seem to last very well in the cellar.

Of course, American wine buyers are familiar with the warning on the wine back labels, “CONTAINS SULFITES”. That warning got shoved down the wine industry’s collective throats a few decades back, ostensibly to protect severe asthmatics from a reaction to the miniscule amounts of sulfur in the bottle.

In truth, the ideologues who pushed the regulation were uninterested in protecting a tiny percentage of those with severe asthma. If they were concerned about asthmatics’ reactions to sulfur, they would have placed a similar but bigger warning sign over every salad bar in American. Salad bars typically have three to five times the amount of sulfur found in a bottle of wine. Indeed, America’s produce sections have more sulfur than that found in wine.

Those ideologues are just anti-alcohol. They hate it when somebody’s having fun. And they give organic a bad name in wine circles.

Organic wine production (as long as it allows some sulfur, say, 35 parts per million) is a very good thing. Organic grape production is a great thing. As wine buyers and purveyors, Winestores is very focused upon seeking wines from organic vineyards, or vineyards with sustainable practices, or even vineyards that are farmed bio-dynamically.

For those of us who have spent a great deal of our lives in the vineyards, it seems obvious that a living vineyard, devoid of chemicals and rich with natural flora and fauna, is a place that makes better wine, with more character, flavors and aromas.

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