Organic Wine 101-There is increasing interest in organic wine from around the world, both for their quality and the positive benefits to the environment. Organic wine is grow in a manner that protects the environment and preserves the life of both the soil and the vines. The resulting organic wines are truly the purest expression of the grape.
For organic wine produced in and imported to the United States, both the growing of the grapes and the production of the wine must be certified. 100% of the wines we import are grown and produced to meet the USDA organic standards, and carry certifications as such. All agricultural ingredients used in the wine must be grown and produced without excluded methods including most conventional pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and ingredients, genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, or sewage sludge. Natural methods are used to combat pests and other natural vineyard hazards. These include the use of predatory insects such as ladybugs and lacewings, and a systematic approach that promotes healthy vines and minimizes the vineyards’ susceptibility to insect and disease attack.
Organic Wine 101 – The Different Categories of Organic Wine
Organic wine sold in the United States fall into two categories: “Made with Organically Grown Grapes” and “Organic.” The primary difference between the two is in the use of sulfites. Both categories of wines are made with 100% USDA Certified Organically Grown Grapes. Many are also produced with No Sulfites Added, and only those wines are allowed to display the USDA organic seal on the label. The level of sulfites in wine is measured in “ppm,” or parts per million.
Wines Made With Organic Grapes
Wine sold, labeled, or represented as being “Made With Organic Grapes” must meet these criteria:
- 100 percent of all grapes (of all varietals) must be certified organic, and be:
- Produced without excluded methods including most conventional pesticides, fertilizers, synthetic ingredients, ionizing radiation, or sewage sludge.
- Produced per the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (National List).
- Overseen by an organic certifying agent.
- Any remaining agricultural ingredients (e.g., yeast) are not required to be organic, but must be produced without excluded methods as listed above.
- Any non-agricultural ingredients must be specifically allowed on the National List.
- The wine is produced and bottled in a certified-organic facility.
- Sulfur dioxide (sulfites) may be added to yield less than 100 parts per million in finished grape wine, but may not be added to wine “made with” other organic fruit (e.g., apples).
- Labels must state the name of the certifying agent (certified organic by *** or similar).
- Label may state, “made with organic grapes.”
- Labels may not include the USDA organic seal.
Our winery partner producers of wine labeled as “Made With Organic Grapes” use the lowest level of sulfites possible to prevent spoilage and bacterial contamination. The legal maximum for the combination of natural and added sulfites in wines labeled as “Made With Organic Grapes” is 100 parts per million (ppm) vs. the limit of 350 ppm in conventional wines.
USDA Organic Wine No Sulfites Added
Many of our organic wine production partners also produce USDA Certified Organic No Sulfites Added wines (often referred to as NSA wines), with no added preservatives. These wines are allowed naturally occurring sulfite levels under 10 ppm. Other agricultural ingredients that go into the wine, including yeast, also have to be certified organic. Only Organic wines are allowed to display the USDA organic seal, and may be labeled as Organic or Organic Wine on the front and back label. Organic wines that contain under 10 ppm of sulfites may be labeled as “No Detectable Sulfites.”
Wineries producing these wines have developed proprietary methods to ensure their wines’ stability with an extended shelf life of 1-2 years. They start by selecting only the highest-quality, healthy grapes, grown in optimal conditions. These are often hand-picked to help ensure premium grapes. The wine is produced in super-hygienic conditions, bottled after a short fermentation in steel tanks, and capped with a screw cap or top quality cork to ensure that no oxygen can reach the wine until it is opened. The resulting wines are fresh and flavorful.
At Natural Merchants, we work to import wines that use the least amount of sulfites and other interventions in the winemaking process as possible. The resulting wines are the true essence of the winery’s terroir, creating a “taste of place” and a glass to remember.