SAN FRANCISCO, 11 JUNE 2007
Dear EarthTalk: I’ve been noticing a lot of
organic wines lately in the supermarket. Is this going to be a continuing
— Peter Toot, via email
The recent upsurge of interest in organic foods has indeed not escaped
the wine business and, yes, organic wines are more popular and more
readily available than ever.
According to the Organic Trade Association, an industry group
representing organic food producers and distributors, U.S. sales of wines
made with organic grapes reached $80 million in 2005, a 28 percent
increase over the previous year. Such sales represent little more than one
percent of the total U.S. domestic wine market, but the association
expects organic wine sales to grow about 17 percent a year through 2008,
mirroring growth across all sectors of organic agriculture.
There are two types of organic labeling on wines. The vast majority of
wines made with organically grown grapes do not qualify for the U.S.
Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) white-and-green "certified organic"
label. This is because, like many conventional wines, they include added
sulfite preservatives to prevent oxidation and bacterial spoilage.
While trace amounts of sulfites occur naturally in wines during the
fermentation process, most producers add more, later in the winemaking
process, to prolong shelf life. An estimated one percent of consumers,
primarily those with asthma, report sensitivity to wines with larger
amounts of sulfites. Symptoms can include a quickened pulse, lung
irritation, skin redness and rashes. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) banned the use of sulfites on fruits and vegetables in 1986 after 13
consumer deaths were linked to them.
Current USDA rules allow wines containing fewer than 10 parts per
million (ppm) of sulfites and made from organic grapes to carry the
"certified organic" label. But organic wines may only advertise that they
are "made from organic grapes" if they contain more than 10 ppm and up to
100 ppm of sulfites. Some organic grape growers consider it unfair that
the addition of sulfites—which occur naturally and are not synthetic
chemicals—should disqualify their wines from "certified organic"
Moving beyond organic, a handful of vineyards have adopted so-called
"biodynamic" (BD) grape growing methods, adding to organic methods the
practice of cultivating, pruning and harvesting on a strict calendar in
sync with lunar cycles. Many view such practices skeptically; nonetheless,
proponents claim that BD wines taste better and remain drinkable longer.
The website Wine Anorak ("anorak" is British slang for "geek" or "nerd")
lists biodynamic wine labels from around the world.
Photo courtesy of Bonterra
Some leading organic (and low-sulfite) wines include varieties from
Ceago, Frey, LaRocca, Bonterra and Organic Wine Works. Meanwhile, the
California-based Organic Wine Company sources and distributes organic
wines from around the world. Additionally, California Certified Organic
Farmers (CCOF), a trade group representing that state’s organic
agriculture industry, provides a free online directory of California
organic products and services, including the state’s many purveyors of
organic and biodynamic wines.
CONTACTS: Wine Anorak, www.wineanorak.com/biodynamic3.htm;
Ceago, www.ceago.com, Frey Vineyards,
www.freywine.com; Bonterra, www.bonterra.com; Organic Wine Company,
CCOF Organic Directory, www.ccof.org/directories.php.
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