In the USA, organic wine is wine made with organically grown grapes and without the addition of sulfites. In Europe, organic wine is wine made from organic grapes and may contain sulfites - sulfites can be added upon bottling.
Organic farming is an ever popular approach to farming, which prohibits the use of chemicals and additives in the fields. Simple, right? Unfortunately, when we talk about wine, everything is more complicated.
If it is rather clear what organic farming means, what’s considered organic wine varies depending on a wine country of origin. There are in fact two definitions of organic wine, one in the United States, another in Europe, within the European Union that is.
To understand why this is, we have to look at the two essential phases of winemaking, growing the grapes in the vineyards, and transforming the grapes into wine in the cellar.
To make great wine you need first and foremost excellent quality grapes, and the vineyard is where it all happens. Farmers growing grapes organically must adhere to a series of prescriptions, which regulate what substances can be used in the vineyard – this is true both in Europe and the USA.
But the main difference is that in the United States, for a wine to be called organic, in addition to being made from organically grown grapes, winemakers must not add any sulfites upon bottling it. In the European Union, there are less stringent regulations as to how organically grown grapes should be vinified, that is transformed into wine.
The United States Department of Agriculture, USDA, the agency presiding organic certifications in the USA, is also concerned with particular aspects of winemaking which happens in the cellar.
This passage from USDA website is key:
"Before wine can be sold as organic, both the growing of the grapes and their conversion to wine must be certified. This includes making sure grapes are grown without synthetic fertilizers and in a manner that protects the environment and preserves the soil.
Other agricultural ingredients that go into the wine, such as yeast, also have to be certified organic. Any non-agricultural ingredients must be specifically allowed on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances and can’t exceed 5% of the total product.
And, while wine naturally produces some sulfur dioxide (sulfites), they can’t be added to organic wine."
Only wine made according to the principles established by the USDA, including the strict requirement “no added sulfur dioxide”, can be sold as organic wine. If a wine only meets the requirement “made with organic grapes”, it cannot be sold as organic wine.
In the European Union, organic wine must be made from organic grapes as well as according to the following winemaking practices – from the European Commission website:
►maximum sulfite content set at 100 mg per liter for red wine (150 mg/l for conventional).
►maximum sulfite content set at 150mg/l for white/rosé (200 mg/l for conventional).
there can be a 30mg/l differential where the residual sugar content is more than 2g per liter.
Within the European Union, for a wine to be labeled and sold as organic, the quantity of sulfur dioxide must be inferior to the one found in conventional wines, but adding it is not forbidden.
Certified organic wine is widely available in the United States, along with a plethora of organic food products. To complete the picture we would like to mention two sub-categories often overlooked - and slightly more difficult to identify.
1 Organic in-conversion: wine producers who are in the process of becoming certified organic.
2 Practicing organic: wine producers who are not certified organic but nevertheless practice organic farming.
Certified organic wine is widely available in the United States, along with a plethora of organic food products. Just look for the logos below and you are guaranteed to buy some organic wine!