Shades of Green - An Overview of Organic Wine

You've invested in that eco-friendly hybrid car. You've shopped at your local Farmer's Market for fresh, organic veggies. You've purchased energy-efficient light bulbs and installed those bamboo floors. You diligently recycle. Now try visiting your local wine shop to seek out another sustainable produced product: Organic & Biodynamic Wines.

For starters, what does organic wine mean? At its most basic level, organic wine is made from grapes that have been grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. The wine should then be made with little or no manipulation of wines by reverse osmosis, excessive filtration, or flavor additives (such as oak chips). Many organic winemakers also prefer wild yeasts for fermentation.

When a label says "organic," it means the wine has met certain standards that are set by a government agency. Different nations have their own certification criteria, so what's organic in one country may not be so in another. Many wineries that are technically organic still choose not to be certified. There are many reasons for this. Some do not want the added costs and bureaucracy of registering. Others may disagree with their government's standards. It can also be a marketing decision. Whatever the case, they are not allowed to use "organic" on their labels. To make the claim on its label, a wine must be made with at least 70 percent organic grapes, according to the Organic Consumers Association. There's no official seal for "wines made from organic grapes", so you'll have to read the label or ask the wine store owner where to find them.

The use of added sulfites is debated heavily within the organic winemaking community. Many vintners favor their use, in extremely small quantities, to help stabilize wines, while others frown on them completely. In the United States, wines labeled "organic" cannot contain added sulfites. Wines that have added sulfites, but are otherwise organic, are labeled "wine made from organic grapes." Some wine experts say the absence of added sulfites causes organic wines to change flavor after it's bottled and is the reason organic wines often don't taste as good as their conventionally-bottled counterparts. However, wine lovers who aren't concerned about sulfites shouldn't focus on whether the bottle carries the organic seal, and instead should just look for wines made from organic grapes. So, why should consumers care about & choose organic wines? Well, let's take a look at the alternative. Conventional wine are the result of conventional agricultural practices, adopted in large part over the past 50 years, have stripped the minerals essential for healthy crops from the soil, necessitating the increasing use of artificial help to replace what has been lost. In fact, according to conservative estimates, seventeen insecticides, fumigants, and herbicides are currently being used in conventional wine grape production.

The cornerstone of organic farming is the soil. Maintaining a healthy, biologically active soil is the main objective for an organic farmer. In the vineyard it means cultivating the soil and planting cover crops, instead of applying herbicides. It means using natural fertilizers, such as composted animal manure, versus chemical fertilizers. Organic growers use no synthetic growth-regulators (such as Alar). As for not using pesticides, the organic alternative is to encourage natural predators of insect pests instead of using poisonous insecticides. Organic farmers promote "biodiversity" and allow plants other than vines to grow in and around the vineyard. Biodiversity helps regulate the vineyard soil by attracting beneficial insects, spiders and predatory mites, as well as provide shelter and food (pollen, nectar and other bugs), and replaces the need for chemical pesticides or insecticides. 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.

To answer the problem of weeds, conventional farmers use chemical weed killers. The organic alternative is to allow the weeds to grow, and mow them periodically so that the cut weeds rot back into the ground, thus providing organic fertilizer.

There is no doubt that growing under organic conditions protects the environment and the people that work in the vineyards from the adverse effects of pesticides, herbicides and insecticides. Organic is more than simply a way of farming. It is also a philosophy. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said "We did not inherit the Earth from our forefathers, we are borrowing it from our descendants."

Organic wines are one of the hottest trends in restaurants today, according to a report last week from the National Restaurant Association, and French organic wines show up consistently among the top ten best wines of any region (when available), being cited in magazines as the most innovative, interesting and personalized products around. One theory for this outstanding quality is that organic vineyards have more natural resistance to poor weather or pestilence, and therefore tend to perform better in poor vintages 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. Best of all, due to a relative lack of public awareness, this quality does not come at a big premium, and organic wines are often some of the best deals out there.

So next time you are buying wine whether in a restaurant or at your local wine store, Instead of just thinking red, white or pink when making your next wine purchase, try thinking Green.

Suggestions:

White Wine - Terra Sana Vin De Pays Charentais 2006 - France - Retails around $9.99
Red Wine - Lolonis Ladybug Old Vines Red Cuvee V non-vintage - California - Retails around $10.79

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About The Author, Jennifer De Jong
Jennifer de Jong is a long time wine drinker, enjoyer of wine, and non-wine-snob. She is the founder of <a href="http://www.vinovixenz.com">VinoVixenz</a> a snob free zone for learning all aspects of wine culture. From how to pronounce difficult wine names to <a href="http://vinovixenz.com/wine-tastings.htm">free wine reviews</a> and ratings.