Organic Wine: What Is It?
Simply put, to be certified organic, a wine needs to be made from vineyards that exclude use of synthetic chemicals: fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and pesticides -- including genetically modified products. Farmers applying for organic certification have to keep tight records of their production practices, and they’re subject to site visits by inspectors from the certifying agency. Usually, the farmland has to be free of prohibited chemicals for a minimum of three years before it can qualify as truly organic.
The requirements to become certified organic vary from country to country. If you’re looking at U.S. wines, however, be aware that in order to earn that "USDA Organic" green seal on it, it only has to meet the requirements by 95%.
How to Choose an Organic Wine
When you’re at your wine shop scouting out an organic bottle, keep in mind that there are many wonderful small family-owned wineries that are following organic practices but just aren’t certified. Why? Because obtaining that certification can be prohibitively expensive! It’s just not practical for every producer to jump through all the hoops, miles of red tape, and piles of cash to get that seal on their label. When in doubt, ask. Any good wine shop will have a staff that’s aware of which bottles are made following organic practices -- seal or no seal -- and they can steer you in the right direction!
What About Biodynamic Wines?
Biodynamic farmers follow all the organic criteria and then kick it up a notch. The key to understanding the biodynamic philosophy is that its disciples see the whole vineyard as an ecosystem where everything must remain in balance within the land and the universe. In biodynamic vineyards, the planting, sowing, and harvesting calendar is determined by the positions of the sun, moon, and planets. It’s a holistic approach where every organism contributes to the "circle of life."
Natural compounds are created to treat the vineyards; solutions are made from substances such as ground quartz, chamomile, and nettles that are sprayed out over the vines. Animal products are an important component to this, and manure, horns and hooves may be incorporated. The idea behind this is that animals eat plants, then plants eat animals, and everything is a continuous cycle.
Even though it all sounds a bit mystical, there’s no denying that biodynamic wines taste particularly alive and vital! Nobody really knows why ... but try one for yourself and you’ll see how delicious they can be.
Finally, there is one more category that every eco-conscious drinker will want to be aware of: sustainable wines. In this category, there is a care and concern for the community and future as well as the land itself. Sustainable wines follow the "3 E’s":
• Environmentally Sound
• Socially Equitable
• Economically Feasible
Sustainable wineries may follow organic and biodynamic principles, but there is much more flexibility to choose what works best for them. For example, a synthetic pesticide or genetically modified fetilizer may be used if that’s more economically feasible. Decisions about energy or water conservation may be made with the community as a whole in mind, not just their land.
Although the world of organic, biodynamic, and sustainable wines is complex -- and maybe a little confusing -- the Internet is a great tool. Check out the website of your favorite winery and most will detail their production practices. With all the information available at our fingertips, it’s easier than ever to support winemakers that are kind to our planet. There are a lot of delicious options out there, if you want to drink green!