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Wednesday, June 20, 2007 02:34 pm

Organic wine

Just because the grapes are organic doesn’t mean the wine is

Sales of wines made with organic grapes reached $80 million in 2005, a 28 percent increase over the previous year. Popular brands include Bonterra (pictured), Ceàgo, Frey. and LaRocca.
Untitled Document What’s behind the trend toward more organic wines?

The recent surge of interest in organic foods has indeed not escaped the wine business. According to the Organic Trade Association, an industry group representing producers and distributors of organic foods, U.S. sales of wines made with organic grapes reached $80 million in 2005, a 28 percent increase over the previous year. Such sales represent little more than 1 percent of the total U.S. domestic wine market, but the association expects organic-wine sales to grow by about 17 percent a year through 2008, mirroring growth across all sectors of organic agriculture. There are two types of organic labeling on wines. The vast majority of wines made with organically grown grapes do not qualify for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s white-and-green “certified organic” label. This is because, like many conventional wines, they include added sulfite preservatives to prevent oxidation and bacterial spoilage. Although trace amounts of sulfites occur naturally in wines during the fermentation process, most producers add more, later in the winemaking process, to prolong shelf life. An estimated 1 percent of consumers, primarily those with asthma, report sensitivity to wines with larger amounts of sulfites. Symptoms can include a quickened pulse, lung irritation, skin redness, and rashes. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the use of sulfites on fruits and vegetables in 1986 after they were linked to the deaths of 13 consumers.
Current USDA rules allow wines containing fewer than 10 parts per million of sulfites and made from organic grapes to carry the “certified organic” label. But organic wines may only advertise that they are “made from organic grapes” if they contain more than 10 ppm and up to 100 ppm of sulfites. Some growers of organic grapes consider it unfair that the addition of sulfites — which occur naturally and are not synthetic chemicals — should disqualify their wines from “certified organic” standing. Moving beyond organic, a handful of vineyards have adopted so-called “biodynamic” grape-growing methods, adding to organic methods the practice of cultivating, pruning, and harvesting on a strict calendar in sync with the lunar cycle. Many view such practices skeptically; nonetheless, proponents claim that biodynamic wines taste better and remain drinkable longer. The Web site Wine Anorak (“anorak” is British slang for “geek” or “nerd”) lists biodynamic wine labels from around the world.
Some leading organic (and low-sulfite) wines include varieties from Ceàgo, Frey, LaRocca, Bonterra, and Organic Wine Works. Meanwhile, the California-based Organic Wine Co. sources and distributes organic wines from around the world. Additionally, California Certified Organic Farmers, a trade group representing that state’s organic-agriculture industry, provides a free online directory of California organic products and services, including the state’s many purveyors of organic and biodynamic wines.
For more information: Wine Anorak, www.wineanorak.com/ biodynamic3.htm; Ceàgo, www.ceago.com, Frey Vineyards, www.freywine.com; Bonterra, www.bonterra.com; Organic Wine Co., www.theorganicwinecompany.com; CCOF Organic Directory, www.ccof.org/ directories.php.  

Send questions to Earth Talk, care of E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881 or e-mail earthtalk@emagazine.com.
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