January 7, 2009

Organic wine

updated 6-2-09
Cheers! Salud! Prost! Let’s celebrate. Even with folks dining out less during this economic downturn, sales of moderately priced $10 to $14 wines are going strong. Your doctor may advise that wine, in moderation, is good for you—assuming no substance abuse issues. The wine industry is adopting more environmentally responsible practices. In a recent survey, 80 percent of the vineyards say they reduced their use of chemicals and used sustainable farming practices during 2008 on at least part of their acreage.

Organic Wines (see June 2009 update below)— Are now more widely available and selling well, but the term "organic" means different things in different countries. In France and Italy, wines labeled "organic" may contain added sulfite, a preservative that stabilizes wine. But the U. S Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires that U.S. wines that carry a “100% Organic” (no pesticides or chemicals) or “Organic” (95% organically grown ingredients) labels can have no added sulfites.

Then there’s “Made with Organic Grapes” on some wine labels, but no USDA seal. Those contain at least 70% organic ingredients, and it’s a clue that sulfites have been added. That's not necessarily a bad thing, unless you’re allergic to them.

Even if your favorite vino doesn't have an organic label, it could come from a vineyard that operates organically, yet chooses not to apply for certification. So it's a good idea to buy from a store or local vineyard where they know their products. Williamsburg Winery, for example, “uses a sustainable approach,” says vineyard manager Tom Child, “and we lean organic as much as possible, but the humidity here is a big challenge.”

The Wine Seller on Monticello Road “stocks from 10 to 15 certified organic wines, with an additional 30 to 40 made with organic grapes,” said general manager Heather Hatcher-Dunn. Virginia’s Associated Distributors’ district manager, Rosa Diaz Hall, also told me that area grocery stores carry the BonTerra label that’s “made with organic grapes” and it’s selling well.

No Whining Please — Consumers can anticipate major changes in wine packaging during the next five to ten years, as producers replace corks with screw caps, and shift to lightweight ‘bag in box’ packaging and even plastic bottles. Boxed wine is often shunned by some wine snobs, but it boasts less than half the carbon footprint of bottled wine since heavier glass requires more fuel for shipping.

Wine drinkers can truly think outside the box with a new organic wine, Yellow+Blue (get it?). It comes in a light-weight TetraPak container, traditionally associated with juice boxes, to reduce its shipping weight.

Boisset Family Estates recently announced that all of its Beaujolais Nouveau exported to North America will be in lightweight PET plastic bottles. The annual release of this wine is always on the third Thursday of November—just in time for Thanksgiving.

New Organic Wine Labeling Policy Effective: June 2, 2009
Labels on organic wines now a bit clearer? Perhaps!
Listen up if you are confused about the difference between made with organic ingredients and certified organic.

Wines that are labeled "Made with Organic Ingredients" will now have to indicate if there are non-organic ingredients in the wine, too. It can be done with a variation on one of the following statements:

--“Made with Organic and Non-Organic Grapes”;
--“Made with Organic [variety] Grapes and Non-Organic [variety] Grapes”;
--“Made with _% Organic Grapes and _% Grapes”;
--“Made with _% Organic [variety] Grapes and _% Non-Organic [variety] Grapes”

But it’s still a tad confusing. Just because a bottle of wine contains 100 percent organic grapes, it does not mean that it meets the USDA’s standard to be certified organic. If the wine contains added sulfites or it did not go through the USDA certification process, it cannot be certified organic.

In order to avoid confusion, (REALLY?) if a wine is made with 100 percent organic ingredients, it cannot be labeled "100% organic ingredients." The concern is that consumers might think it’s certified. Instead, the wine may label itself with something like “Ingredients: Organic Grapes.” This is supposed to let consumers know that there are no non-organic grapes in the wine.