You shop for organic products at the local farmer’s market and look for natural cleaning products. Maybe you choose recycled material for your clothing and avoid processed foods…But when it comes to wine, do you know what you’re putting in your body? You may have noticed that there is an empty void where the organic wine section should be. Unlike other organic products, the regulations for labeling wine with an organic seal is often unattainable- not for lack of vineyard care, but due to prices and counter-intuitive restrictions. This lack of identifying labels has left many customers confused.
Why is it so hard to find organic wines?
When it comes to small and artisan producers from around the world, farming without the use of pesticides is somewhat common practice. Winery proprietors are all too aware of the market trends towards sustainable practices, yet are confined by bureaucracy. Every country has its own requirements for wines to be labeled organic. For example, the US requires that organic wines contain less than 100 parts per million of sulfur, which is sometimes less than naturally occurs during fermentation (hence why you may find “Made from organic grapes” rather than “Organic wine” on an American label). Other farmers are restricted by proximity. They may practice healthy vineyard management, but cannot label as such because their neighbors are using pesticides. Price further limits wineries from attaining an official organic seal. Many small wineries run tight margins and cannot find the budget to bring an official representative from USDA or similar board to verify their practices. Ultimately, viticulturalists are farmers. A wet vintage or humid climate may require even the best-intentioned winemaker may have to use some pesticides in order to have a crop.
Parallel practices to organic winemaking to put on your radar
Organic wine may be hard to come by, but there are other practices that may still compliment your values. These terms aren’t talked about as much in normal agriculture (I’ve never seen a “biodynamic” banana), but can help you navigate towards healthier and more environmentally-conscious wines.
Biodynamic wines mirror many of the practices of organic wine and take it a step further. Biodynamic producers also work with the lunar calendar to target the best days times to perform certain vineyard management practices. You could finish the entire series of Game of Thrones before reading through all of the complexities of the subject, but know that biodynamic wine is, in essence, organic with an extra dusting of new-age wisdom (or not so-new… it was created by Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s). Like organic wines, biodynamic has its own governing board and verification process, with a cost that’s as equally prohibiting as organic wine.
Sustainable wineries have the earth in mind when they manage their resources. Water usage is a major concern for mindful winemakers, as is erosion and the life of the soil. Some may even use natural energy, such as solar or wind power to run their facility. This, like the others, can be certified for a price.
Socially responsible wineries concern themselves with the fair treatment of people as well as the land. South Africa has a number of organizations that develop skilled positions of colored people, directly in response to the friction created by apartheid. Other countries may offer housing or living wages to their vineyard workers.
Shopping for organic wine
Many winemakers may not list their vineyard practices on the label, so it’s hard to know which wineries have values that are in line with your own. Start by asking your sommelier or retail specialist. Be patient here- many retail or restaurant wine buyers may not know which wines are organic unless they ask every time. And even then, the representative from the distributor may not know. Some wineries may list their practices on their website, although more than a few retain this information to prevent consumer confusion. To solve this, Palate Club has a function that allows you to only receive organic wines so that you never have to think about it.
The next time you’re shopping for something to sip on, consider if the winery has practices that you model in your own life. If it’s not evident on the label, ask for help! There are thousands of producers that farm organically and don’t have the means to get certified.