In February of this year, the United States and European Union (EU) met to discuss the recognition of each country’s standards and processes with the certification of organic foods and beverages.
To the average consumer, this would probably sound simple enough, but when it comes to wine, the battle still is not over.
The culprit, once again, is sulfites. Additives, if you will, which many of us assume we’re allergic to.
This may not seem like an issue to most of us, but if your goal is to eat and drink more organically, finding quality “green” wine can be a real challenge. How many of us have bought a bottle of organic wine, only to be disappointed in the result?
No problem, you might say. Just ditch the sulfites, and we’ll be fine. But in winemaking, this is easier said than done.
When grapes are crushed during the winemaking process, bacteria growth can get into the mix, and quickly turn that wine to vinegar. The addition of sulfites kills off that bacteria, keeping it at bay. Sulfites also help to minimize oxidization, and essentially keep the wine from breaking down before its time.
According to an article from Nomad’s Uncorked, it’s also nearly impossible to make sulfite-free wine because very tiny amounts sulfites occur naturally during fermentation.
In 1990, the USDA decided that certified organic wine can contain no added sulfites, and naturally occurring sulfites are capped at 10 parts per million (ppm). Nomad’s Uncorked mentions that a more reasonable level for sulfites is around 30 ppm, to prevent spoilage and maintain the overall balance of the wine.
But that zero sulfite-tolerance rule seems to be one that the USDA seems unwilling to reconsider. Organic food, by definition, was to be grown without synthetic or chemical pesticides, herbicides or fungicides and made with no synthetic or chemical additives. Sulfites, some of which were man-made, were deemed a synthetic ingredient.
The end result: winegrowers in the US had less control over the stability and overall quality of their wines, but as long as they stuck to the USDA’s ‘rules’, they could still get their ‘green seal of approval’ and call those wines organic.
Now, we’re all about eating clean, pesticide free foods, and no one wants herbicides, fungicides, or poisons in what they drink. But sulfites aren’t any of those things, and sulfites need to exist in wine.
So what can you as a consumer do if you’re trying to eat and drink organically? Do you sacrifice quality for a ‘seal’, or is there another way to find organic wines on the market?
For now, we’d encourage you to do your research, read up on vineyards and labels, and ask your retailer or importer for more information on the wines they carry.
You can read more about our recent organic wine experience in the next article.