We thought we’d demystify some of the common questions, confusions and curiosities around organic wine. Because organic and low intervention wines are the focus of our shop, we get our fair share of questions in this area. So here are some of our FAQs we get in the shop and online nearly every week:
What makes a wine organic? What’s the difference between organic wine and regular wine?
Organic wine is the same as any other organic produce or food product: the fruit is grown without any pesticides, herbicides or nasty chemicals that are harmful for the planet (and our bodies). Organic wine is ‘regular wine’, just without all the added chemicals so often used in commercial farming.
What’s the benefit of buying organic wine?
There are so many benefits to organic farming in general, and it makes a massive difference for the final product. How many times have you heard someone say – maybe you’ve said it yourself – that ‘all (red/white/rose) wines taste kind of the same’? We find that a lot of the ‘same’-ness of flavours in non-organic wines is in part because of all the additives.
The grapes themselves have a tasty, unique flavour, but the wine gets manipulated and interfered with so much that its natural expression gets muted or altered. Organic wines, on the other hand, have a huge range of nuanced flavours and textures.
There’s also the impact on our bodies, from potential repeat consumption over the years of chemical residue from non-organic wine, plus the effect on the planet, which is really why we work to support organic farmers at our shop. Now more than ever, we need to minimise our negative impact on the earth. Farmers maintaining their land through organic practices make a tangible difference to the sustainability of their produce and the local environment.
The myriad insecticides, herbicides and fungicides sprayed on non-organic vineyards soak directly into the soil, sometimes spreading much further downhill or downstream, and kill a lot of the natural wildlife in the surrounding environment. This disrupts the local ecosystem, and makes it impossible for the soil to regenerate. Organic practice ensures that the soil doesn’t get depleted and barren, benefitting the grapes themselves, and that the land remains diverse and healthy with its local flora and fauna.
How can I tell if a wine is organic or not?
There are lots of wines that are certified organic, which gives us a guarantee that the grapes are farmed organically. The winemakers then display that certification on the wine label (there are several logos from different certifying bodies to look out for, often using the French word ‘biologique’ if the wine is European) along with any other certifications they may have (vegan, biodynamic, etc.).
However, plenty of winemakers choose not to get their organic wines certified, despite using 100% organic farming. This can be because they want a clean label or because of the added cost of the certification process (particularly for small producers with tight profit margins).
On that note: up until recently, advertising that a wine was organic didn’t lead to more sales, so small makers had no incentive to get wines certified. Luckily, with more customer awareness around the benefits of buying organic, there’s greater demand for certification and clear labels. So while it still sometimes takes some digging on our part, information about a wine’s organic status is easier to find than ever before.
Are all organic wines sulphite free?
Short answer: no.
While there are limits on sulphite levels allowed in certified organic wine, and lots of organic wine happens to be very low* in sulphites, sulphite addition is separate to organic farming.
This preservative, SO₂ aka sulphur dioxide aka sulphites, while naturally occurring in small amounts through fermentation, is generally added artificially into wines to keep them fresh. (Check this post if you want to go down the full sulphite rabbit hole).
High levels of sulphites have been deemed unhealthy for human consumption, and can have other negative impacts on wine. So winemakers who are thoughtful enough to use organic practices are often also the ones being mindful about sulphite levels in their wines. So there’s plenty of overlap in wines that are organic and have low/no sulphite addition, but if you’re after a low sulphite wine don’t count on an organic certification to guarantee it’s free of added sulphites.
*We say low in sulphites rather than sulphite free because it’s rare to find a wine with absolutely no detectable sulphites. They’re out there, but they’re few and far between. Unless you have a severe sulphite allergy, most people don’t have any negative reaction to reasonable amounts of sulphites in their wine.
What is a good organic wine?
Whatever style of wine is your favourite! At this point, there are enough organic wines being made around the world that there is something for everyone.
Why are organic wines more expensive than the standard options in the supermarket?
There are a lot of factors in the price of wine. Here are just a few off the top of our heads:
- maintaining the land
- labour for pruning and harvesting (which is more expensive if done by hand)
- the human hours that go into processing, fermenting, aging and bottling the wine
- the physical glass bottles and corks, plus the label (design, printing and materials)
- the aforementioned certifications
You get the picture. Making wine is a labour of love, and costs a lot of money if it’s done ethically and sustainably! So with organic farming, this is understandably more than if the vines were treated with chemicals and left to do their thing, rather than maintained without pest-deterring chemicals, which takes much more energy and time spent physically present with the vines.
Hopefully this clarified some of the basics around organic wine, but we’re always happy to talk shop, either in person or via our website or socials. Check in anytime, no question is too silly or obvious, we’re always here to help!
Author: Sophia Tupy