We’ve stirred up a lot of grapes here recently with our talk about organic and biodynamic and sustainable wines. We thought that we’d expound a bit about that and see of we can’t coax the cork out a bit further.
First, let’s look at some basic facts. American’s spend about 10% of their disposable income on food. Why we would consider food purchases as disposable is anyone’s guess, and we certainly consider wine to be a food group, but there it is. “Organic” products are also about a $35 Billion industry, and is growing by about 20% per year. One would hope that it’s going to follow the “Big-Screen Television” model and go from stupidly expensive to perfect-for-any-home, but that also remains to be seen.
And then there’s the “organic” label. There are two different ones, “100% Organic” and simply “Organic.” The 100% tag says that everything in your bottle is made with natural ingredients, from growing the grapes to processing. That means no pesticides, no chemical enhancements, and no additives, like pesky sulfites to preserve your wine. You can have 95% natural ingredients and go for the lesser label, but that means that up to 5% of the ingredients can be whatever the heck the vintner wants to put in there would be okay.
Organic labeling is also the domain of the United States Department of Agriculture, who stacked the board with lawyers and lobbyists from companies that sell and promote chemicals for agriculture. There are also “experts” on the board who come from the offices of big agri-business firms like ConAgra and Ralston-Purina, so take it with a grain of salt. So according to them, you can spray your vines with copper or some other mineral, and since that item originally came out of the ground, you’re good. Your fast food burger probably started out as a cow and look how that turned out. Chew on that for a minute.
There is also the misleading “made with organic grapes” label. That says nothing about what they did to transport the grapes, how they squashed the grapes, and what they did to give them the right flavor profile, color, alcohol or aroma. Need an extra kick to make your organic wine have that subtle oaky taste? Try a few gallons of “Oak in a Bottle.” It’s all good. And if it says “all natural” then go ahead and roll the dice. Who approves that? The wine maker. You could pour lighter fluid in a bottle and label it “all natural.” You may not sell a whole lot of it, but you technically won’t be breaking any laws. Unless you sold it as wine, of course.
Now, let’s talk about sulfites. There was a kind of fad a few years back where nobody wanted to touch them. It was kind of like going gluten-free or avoiding sugar. The rumor mill said that red wine was high in sulfites, they gave you headaches, and your children would glow in the dark. All false. Sulfites come from sulfur dioxide, and as tasty as that sounds, it is a part of the fermentation process. If you start with 100% natural and organic grapes, put them in a sterile barrel, and start up the fermentation process, you’ll get sulfites in your wine. It is a preservative, and helps to keep your wine from turning into vinegar. White wine actually contains more naturally occurring sulfites, and the headache is because you drank too much wine. Or maybe it’s your children. Some vineyards will add some extra to stabilize the wine, so look for the phrase “contains no added sulfites.” This means that the only sulfites in the wine are naturally occurring.
“But what’s the big deal, anyway,” you ask? Didn’t a Stanford University study say that eating organic foods didn’t amount to a hill of grapes? They sure did. In truth, there is no great nutritional value to choosing organic. But that’s not really why you should choose it. It’s about pesticides, chemical fertilizers, preservatives, and the impact growers have on both us and on our environment. All of those chemicals have to go somewhere. And at the end of the day, it’s about your wine.