Are there benefits to drinking organic wine? At Quigley Fine Wines, we like to think so (and it isn’t just because all of our wines are organic)! We have compiled some of the many reasons why you should consider drinking organic wine.
But first: what IS organic wine? The designation requirements vary from country to country. In the United States, the USDA provides three levels of organic certification:
1. “100% organic” (Made–as the label suggests–with 100% organic grapes)
2. “Organic” (Made with a minimum of 95% organic grapes)
3. “Made with organic grapes” (Made with a minimum of 70% organic grapes)
Both the grape-growing and winemaking processes must be certified by the USDA for these designations to be assigned.
Prior to 2012, the only accepted designation for the European Union was the term “Made from organic grapes.” There was not a designation “Organic wine” until 2012, when the Standing Committee on Organic Farming (SCOF) released requirements for EU wines labeled “Organic.”
Winemakers must use grapes certified as organic (grown without the use of specific chemicals) and have a maximum sulphite content of 100 mg/liter for red wine and 150 mg/liter for white wine or rosé (50 mg/liter less than non-organic wines). Within the European Union, certifications are further complicated by each country’s own requirements for organic grape-growing and wine-making.
4 Reasons to Drink Organic Wine
#1: It’s better for the environment
According to The Guardian, “To keep the weeds and bugs at bay, organic farmers work with nature, rather than against it, by boosting their vineyard’s biodiversity.” Farmers might use cover crops, which “provide a habitat for beneficial insects that are the natural enemy of problem species,” or introduce sheep, which graze among the vines and consume weeds. This creates a vineyard that is “a self-regulating, natural ecosystem, which is able to combat problems intrinsically and eliminate the need for artificial, and potentially toxic, chemicals.”
In the U.S., organic grapes can still use some chemicals, but many chemicals and pesticides must be avoided to receive an organic certification. By choosing organic wines, you as a consumer are promoting a healthier way of farming that creates less of a negative environmental impact and is safer for not only the animals, but the farmer workers who are exposed to the vines.
#2: It contains lower levels of sulphites (and alcohol)
U.S. certified organic wines are allowed to have 100 parts/million (ppm) of sulfites, while wines not labelled organic are allowed sulfites of up to 300 ppm. Why are sulfites important? Sulfites have been proven to irritate those with asthma: if you suffer from asthma, this is a factor to consider when drinking wine. Additionally, an organic wine is probably less likely to give the consumer a headache: organic wines tend to have lower levels of alcohol, which is the main factor in the dreaded hangover.
The wine’s flavor can be altered by the amount of sulfites. When interviewed by the Food Network online, Appellation Wine and Spirits owner Scott Pactor claimed “The use of sulfur can quiet the effect of the wine. When you have wines with no added sulfur, they can be very expressive.”
#3: It’s more likely to be gluten free (and vegan)
Up to 70 additives can be found in some wines, including sugars, non-ambient yeasts, pesticide residue, dyes, and added sulphites. (Sulphites are a naturally occurring byproduct of the winemaking processes, but many winemakers add more sulfites to stabilize and preserve the wine.) Winemakers use various methods to filter their wine, including animal products: gelatin, milk products, egg whites, and even fish bladders can be used to create a finished wine that is clarified. While it is important to note that the “organic” designation does not ensure a wine is gluten-free or vegan (some of these clarification processes are organic-approved) there is a higher likelihood that the winemaker has clarified with other, more vegan-friendly, means.
#4: It uses ambient (natural) yeasts
We tend to romanticise the wine industry, imagining that the wine we are drinking came from a small-production winery. Perhaps family run? (With a cute border collie companion following the vintner around the vineyard, for good measure.) What we are often drinking, however, is far from the idyllic image we’ve imagined: large-production wineries typically use machines to harvest the grapes–and laboratories to manipulate the wine–ensuring vintage after vintage is the same regardless of each year’s growing conditions. These wines make their way into our grocery stores, liquor stores, and even “boutique” and upscale wine stores.
At Quigley Fine Wines, we not only take pride in selecting the highest quality, most delicious wines, but also in our choice to carry 100% organic wines that reflect the region’s terroir. Terroir is best expressed through organic wines, which use natural, or “ambient,” yeasts. Ambient yeasts occur naturally in the vineyard and on the grapes, and wine made with these yeasts allow for a true expression of terroir. With these organic practices, we travel back to the heart of winemaking, maintaining a connection to the land and to traditional wine-making practices. We believe that this connection to the land, as expressed through terroir, is what wine is all about.
- USDA, “Organic 101: Organic Wine”
- TIME Magazine, “Drinking Wine Won’t Prevent a Hangover”
- USDA Organic Wine Information Sheet (PDF)
- Andrew Weil, M.D., “Should You Drink Organic Wine?”
- Dr. Axe, “10+ Reasons to Drink Natural, Organic Wine”
- Food Network, “Organic Wine is Better for You”
- The Guardian, “Natural wines: no lab-bred yeast, pig’s pancreas, or cryo-extraction”
- Wine Folly, “The Difference Between Organic and Non-Organic Wine”
- Wine Spectator, “U.S. and Europe Have Different Definitions of Organic Wine”
- European Commission Press Release Database, Organic Wine Rules Frequently Asked Questions
- European Commission Agricultural and Rural Development, Organic Farming, “Organic Wine”
- Eco Attitude, Vin Biologique