Eco-Friendly Wines

By Sally Deneen

Since imported grapes are among the most pesticide-laden produce, it is no wonder we are reaching more often for organic wines to fill our glasses. Organic wines come from organic grapes — fruit grown without chemical killers of insects and weeds and without chemical fertilizers or fungicides. Every nation has its own rules regarding what can be labeled "organic," so standards vary. In France and Italy, sulfites — a preservative that stabilizes wine — can be added to wines labeled "organic." In the US, added sulfites are forbidden in "certified organic" or "organic" wines.

When you see American wine labels that state "made from organic grapes," that's a clue sulfites have been added. That's not necessarily a bad thing; in fact, some people prefer it. In a 2006 wine testing, Wall Street Journal wine columnists Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher preferred wines labeled "made with organically grown grapes" to those deemed "organic." "The best tasted like grapes and earth, period," they wrote.

Confounding matters, you may sometimes be drinking an organic wine, even though the label doesn't state so. Many American vineyards operate organically, yet don't go through the expense of jumping through the governmental hoops required for certification to allow them to label their wines "organic," according to Or they simply don't want the word on the bottle. In the old days, organic wines had a poor reputation, taste-wise, among wine enthusiasts. The industry is still countering that stigma. Today several organic wines earn kudos.

Here is a simple guide to what different green wine labels mean:

"100% Organic." You guessed it — the wine is made from 100% organically grown ingredients. The wine also was monitored throughout its entire production process. The bottle bears the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic seal (the certifying agency must be listed). No sulfites are added, though it can contain naturally occurring sulfites (or sulfur dioxide, an antimicrobial substance).

"Organic." Surprise — it's not totally organic. The wine has 95% organically grown ingredients (the other 5% must not be available organically). On the label, you'll see the USDA organic symbol. Again the certifying agency must be listed. No sulfites are added, though the wine can contain naturally occurring sulfites.

"Made with Organic Grapes" or "Made with Organic Ingredients." The wine contains at least 70% organic ingredients. Sulfites can be added, but it may not beyond 100 parts per million. The wine can't bear the USDA organic seal.

"Biodynamic." The wine is 100% organic, plus the grower has gone beyond to try to bring the farming process more closely in tune with nature. For instance, wine growers may make their own compost and/or watch the stars and planets to time what they do. The concept of biodynamic farming originated from the early 20th-century Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner.

For more info:

Learn to make your own organic wine.

10 reasons to buy organic and biodynamic, from a vineyard's view.

For a closer look at the industry, click here.


what's your definition?

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