We recently researched the 700+ wines we have in stock to see which qualify as organic. Mike Garavito led the project, while his colleagues waded through the morass of confusing information on the subject. The goal was to educate ourselves and come up with a simplified classification system to help customers navigate our offerings. We thought it would be good to share the five pieces of information that helped us to demystified this opaque topic.
1. Wine making is broken into two general parts: Part 1 is growing the grapes, Part 2 is fermenting and bottling the wine. Chemicals can be used in both Parts. If Part 1 is Organic, then no chemicals are sprayed on the grapes or used in the fertilizer. If Part 2 is Organic then no synthetic yeast or sulfites are added during fermentation or bottling. Note, sulfites occur naturally in wine, but synthetic sulfites are added to preserve the wine if it is not refrigerated — which is the case with most wines as they go from the winery to the shelves of stores to your home.
2. In the US, Certified Organic wines are chemical-free throughout the entire wine-making process. In other words, no pesticides are sprayed on the grapes when growing, no fungicide is used in the fertilizer, no synthetic yeast or no sulfites are added.
3. In the EU, Certified Organic wines are chemical-free only during Part 1 (or the growing phase) of the wine-making process. Jeeze.
4. Not many wineries choose to get certified. Ted Lemon, the wine maker at Littorai, a Practicing biodynamic winery (more on that), told us the topic of certification is a hot one in Napa. Wine-makers feel the certification process is just too long and costly. Also, the makers feel they risk losing control over the quality of the wine in tough vintages.
5. But many wineries do practice organic and biodynamic farming. The classification Practicing Organic can have an array of implications. At a minimum, we found that practicing organic means a winery is not using pesticides on grapes as they grow – which we think is meaningful for folks who buy organic foods. At the other end of the spectrum, wineries like Littorai are going to great lengths to practice biodynamic farming methods.
Biodynamic farming involves using as few chemicals (and other man-made interventions) as possible in a “closed system” to grow the grapes. For example, the fertilizer used in growing biodynamic grapes comes from the winery’s own composting and the water from vineyard sources. It is a practice that mimics ancient growing techniques and is believed to enhance the terroir , or unique qualities of the growing environment, in the wine itself.
In our store, we have put a “bee symbol” on any wine that qualifies as Certified Organic, Certified Biodyamic or Practicing Organic/Biodynamic. We have noted in our POS system if the wine is certified or practicing organic/biodynamic. We did not include any sustainably farmed or natural wines in our definition of organic. We found that these kinds of descriptors do not mean the wines are chemical-free during any step of the wine growing process.
We hoped this post helped you. Comments? Leave them here or on Facebook. Give us a call at 631-324-2622, visit us at Facebook or contact us if you are interested in purchasing any of the 60+ Organic Wines we currently carry.