What is Organic Wine?

Alongside an increased focus on a smaller carbon footprint, many people today are on the lookout for healthier options for many of the products they consume. Amongst these products is wine, and as a result, organic wine’s popularity has soared. In fact, organic wine sales doubled from 349 million bottles in 2012 to a staggering 676 million bottles by the end of 2017. But what is organic wine? In this article, we’ll explore the organic phenomenon and what sets organic wines apart from other wines in the market.

What is “Certified Organic” Wine?

For wine to be labelled as "organic", only organic grapes are used with minimal natural preservatives and more.

Currently, there is no governing body on an international level that determines what makes a wine organic, so the rules and regulations are defined on a country-by-country basis. In the United States, for example, “Certified Organic” is a very specific term. Under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organic program, a product being “Certified 100% Organic” means that all the ingredients in that product were grown or raised according to the USDA’s organic standards.

In Canada, wines can be classified into 4 different categories, namely “Organic”, “100% Organic”, “Made with Organic Grapes”, and “Biodynamic”. Each of these categories has its own regulations, which we will compare and explore below. 

What Are The Requirements for Organic Wine in the USA?

The most important requirements for a wine to be certified organic in the USA include:

  • Only organic grapes can be used. 100 Percent of the grapes need to be grown without the use of pesticides and herbicides, chemical fertilizers, or other synthetic chemicals.
  • Only minimal use of natural preservatives is allowed.
  • Genetically-modified organisms (found in some yeasts) can’t be present in the wine.
  • Flavouring agents and colours can’t be added to the wine.

U.S. organic winemakers are also not allowed to add sulphites (often used in winemaking as a preservative). In Europe and Canada however, a minimal amount of added sulphites is acceptable. Keep in mind that sulphites are a natural byproduct of the winemaking process, so a sulphite-free wine is impossible. These rules concern added sulphites, which are different from the naturally occurring ones found in all wines.

What about Organic Wine in Canada?

Canada has a few organic vineyards, which tend to be smaller boutique-style wineries that are certified in making organic wine. In Ontario, Southbrook Vineyards and Frogpond Farm are two examples of certified organic wineries. And while a vineyard might be certified organic, it doesn’t always mean that the attached winery is as well. Even though the grapes are grown in a completely organic manner, the practices used to create the wine might prevent the wine from being officially labelled as “organic.” 

Here are some terms to look for that can help you understand whether a Canadian wine is organic (and to what extent).

100% Organic Wines

This means that the wine is made from certified 100 percent organically grown grapes and does not contain added sulphites.

Organic Wines

Organic means that the wine is made with at least 95 percent organic ingredients. These wines may have a low amount of added sulphites.

Wines Made with Organic Grapes

This refers to wines that are made with at least 70 percent organic grapes. The wine may also have added sulphites, though there are no official criteria regarding sulphites for this label.

Biodynamic Wines

Biodynamic farming refers to organic farming that does not use any synthetic fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides, or pesticides. The process is totally dependent on natural processes and minimal intervention. A vineyard that is biodynamic-certified usually exceeds the standards and regulations of organic certification.

Is Organic Wine Better?

A bundle of grapes that will be used in the process to create organic wine.

There’s a lot of debate on whether or not organic wine is better than “conventional” wine. Let’s look at some of the arguments. 

Is Organic Wine Healthier?

In terms of your health, organic is generally the better choice. Organic grapes produce more resilient skins, resulting in higher amounts of antioxidants, which help reduce inflammation, and polyphenols, which in turn promote gut health. Organic grapes are also produced without the use of synthetic pesticides and chemicals, which can get into the water supply or leave residue on crops and have unintended negative health effects on people over time.

Does Organic Wine Taste Better?

When it comes to taste, the jury is still out. Many wine drinkers don’t think the quality of organic wine is there and actively avoid drinking them, while others rave about how much better organic wine tastes. Some wineries actively choose not to put an organic label on their wines or hide it on the back of the bottle for fear that being labelled organic would change the public’s perception of the wine’s quality.

It’s also worth mentioning that because they have fewer preservatives, organic wines tend to have a shorter shelf life and can turn into vinegar if they are kept too long. 

Why Choose Organic?

A lot of vineyards today follow industrial farming practices, including the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and intensive tilling and plowing that damages biological soil health. Pesticide runoff can damage water bodies and in turn surrounding cities and towns, and even harm workers who might be constantly working with said pesticides or within vineyards that heavily use them. For this reason, picking out wines that are grown organically or biodynamically can be a way of “voting with your dollar” and encouraging wine producers to prioritize responsible farming and practices that improve the quality of the soil. 

Choosing the Right Wine

A glass of red wine created from a variety of organic grapes.

Organic wines can be difficult to find, and you’ll have more success starting with wines from Spain, France, and Italy. 73 Percent of organic vineyards in the world are located in these three countries. By contrast, the U.S. only produces 2 percent of the world’s organic wines.

Pay close attention when reading labels and do your research! Wine companies often mention they follow “organic farming practices”, despite not being certified. There are more organic options than ever before, but you might need to do a little digging.

For U.S. wines, look for the USDA-seal or for the words “organically grown grapes.” Labels with the words “green”, “natural”, or ‘eco-friendly’ do not necessarily mean that they are organic.

If you’re looking for Canadian organic wine, then be on the lookout for labels featuring the words “Organic”, “100% Organic”, or “Made with Organic Grapes.”

We at WineCollective can also be a great resource for finding new wines, including organic offerings! We are always on the lookout for new exciting wines, and make sure to share our discoveries and rare finds with our members. Join us as we explore uncharted territories and discover wonderful grape varieties and unusual blends.