Michael Bray

Wine Columnist Michael Bray

Welcome back to “you ask and I’ll answer.” This month we shed light on one of the most frequently talked about topics: organic wines for summer.

What is organic wine?

I love questions, especially in a retail setting such as Passion Vines. If you listen closely enough, you understand not only what the customer wants, but more importantly, what they value. What I can tell you, first hand, is that customers want organic. Why? Because they value health and source integrity.

Here’s what you need to know:

Wines labeled as “made from organically grown grapes” consist of grapes that are harvested using sustainable agricultural practices. Simply put, these are grapes grown without the use of artificial fertilizers, pesticides or chemicals in the vineyards.

Wines labeled as “organic” consist of grapes that are harvested without the use of artificial fertilizers, pesticides or chemicals in the vineyards and in the winery. This includes the winery’s fermentation tanks, ageing barrels and even the bottles themselves. Lastly, under USDA standards, organic wines cannot contain sulfur dioxide added during winemaking.

Sulfur dioxide is a natural element that is a byproduct of fermentation and is also present in soil. All wines have some degree of naturally occurring sulfites. Wines that are USDA organic (or biodynamic, think organic plus astrological and lunar influences) do not have additional sulfites used as a preservative. Unfortunately, our labeling laws require just the words “contains sulfites” on the label and do not differentiate between the naturally occurring and the additional. One important note: Organic wines from the EU (European Union) may contain some sulfur dioxide.

Here’s why it may be confusing:

The overwhelming majority of organic wines has no indication of such on the label. In some countries the certification process can be expensive, ridiculously strict or even incongruous to making quality wine. In turn, incredibly passionate producers that practice the most intense sustainable, organic and even biodynamic methods do not get certified. Yet the wines they produce may be more pure, natural and tasty than some winemakers that promote their “organic” qualities.

Here’s a trick if you don’t have someone to help:

A great indication of purity comes from the back label of the wine, where the wine importer is noted. Passion Vines represents importers that deal exclusively with natural and traditional producers, which invariably means organic. Some of these importers are Fleet Street, Vias Imports, Jorge Ordonez, Louis Dressner, Skurnik Wines, Polaner Imports and others. Next time you’re drinking and or shopping imported wine, turn the bottle around and see who imports the wine. If you like the wine, I strongly recommend you try other wines by the same importer.

Lastly, know this: there are wines made in a board room and wines made in a vineyard. I will never deny the need to make a profit, that’s a critical piece to sustainability. However, I will always defend and fight for integrity, and by the questions I get, it sounds like a lot of people feel the same way.

You keep asking, and I’ll keep writing.

Drink Passionately,

Michael Bray

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