Organic Wine


Written by Jan Walsh
Photography by Beau Gustafson

Think buying organic food is a challenge? Try buying organic wine, but not until you read this article—because it will help.

Winemaking can be divided into two main phases: growing grapes in the vineyard and making them into wine in the winery. Fortunately, there are no GMO wine grapes—yet.

But many conventional wine growers use a lot of pesticides, including glyphosate weed killer to spray weeds alongside the wines that the World Health Organization named a likely carcinogen in 2016. Organic or biodynamic grapes are used in making organic wines. These grapes are grown in accordance with principles of organic farming, excluding the use of artificial chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides.

During second phase of winemaking, many different ingredients can be added to ferment and preserve the wine. The most common wine preservative is sulphur dioxide. In the practice of natural winemaking, native yeasts are used in the fermentation process, and minimal or no sulfur dioxide is used in the winemaking process.

The legal definition of organic wine varies by country. For a wine made in the U.S. to bear the USDA Organic Seal, it must be made from 95 percent organically grown ingredients, and it may contain up to 5 percent produce from conventional farming. Additionally, for the entire production cycle, from growing grapes to wine in the bottle, the wine must been made using methods that promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity.

Natural winemaking methods using native yeasts and minimal win manipulation yield some varietals that may not age as long and/or vary more vintage to vintage, as each vintage’s authentic flavors come through. This natural winemaking approach is what the Uncle Henry was referring to in the movie A Good Year: “I enjoy making wine because this sublime nectar is quite simply incapable of lying. Picked too early, picked too late, it matters not. The wine will always whisper into your mouth with complete, unabashed honesty every time you take a sip.”

Beyond or in addition to the USDA Organic Label, look for other helpful certifications and logos including: the Sip Certified program that goes beyond organic to sustainability; Demeter for biodynamic wines; and the European Union and France’s Agriculture Biologique logos requiring 95 percent organic ingredients. Also stay abreast of the ever-growing number of countries and wine regions where glyphosate is labeled or outright banned; hopefully more are moving in
that direction.

On Nov. 8, California’s Sonoma County became the sixth California county to ban GMOs, joining Santa Cruz, Mendocino, Humboldt, Trinity, and Marin. Given Sonoma County connects Marin County to Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity, the ban’s passage creates a 13,734-square-mile zone where genetically engineered plants cannot be grown, which is the largest in the United States. This is also important because GMO plants typically require more glyphosate than non-GMO plants due to their super weeds that are more resistant to it.

Purchasing organic foods or beverages should also ensure that we are not eating or drinking glyphosate. But a word of caution: A 2016 analysis revealed glyphosate has now been found not only in wine but also in organic wine. This is likely due to contamination from runoff or drift from nearby non-organic farms. An anonymous supporter of the advocacy group Moms Across America sent 10 California wine samples to be tested for glyphosate. All of the samples tested positive for glyphosate, even organic wines, although their levels were significantly lower.


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