Wine consumers will find that organic wine labels are available in limited supply, as standards for this product require practices that require dedication in an industry that has permitted unnatural soil additives and chemicals to be applied for decades.
However, a growing number of wine producers and enthusiasts agree that organic wines offer an exceptionally natural flavor that cannot possibly be approached by artificial measures. Organic grape production is a time intensive process that involves strict avoidance of chemicals, synthetic herbicides, pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers.
The certification process requires thorough documentation of vineyard history and farming techniques (a reason not every "organically grown" wine may label their product as such though they are in the process of an organic agricultural transition). Many growers often choose organic growing methods to give themselves peace of mind that they are not endangering their family, employees, or clients with dangerous chemicals.
Conventional agricultural practices, adopted in large part over the past 60 years, have stripped the minerals essential for healthy crops from the soil, necessitating the increasing use of artificial help to replace what has been naturally lost. When pesticides are sprayed on the grapes to protect them from disease, they may end up as residue in the wine. In addition to contact pesticides, there are also systemic pesticides which are sprayed on the ground to be absorbed by the roots, ending up in the grape pulp and inevitably in the wine. These chemicals are of great concern because they are suspected dangerous "carcinogens" (cancer-causing substances or agents).
The cornerstone of organic farming is the soil. Maintaining a healthy, biologically active soil is the main objective for an organic farmer. In the vineyard it means cultivating the soil and planting cover crops instead of applying herbicides. It also means using natural fertilizer such as composted animal manure versus chemical fertilizers. Organic growers use no synthetic growth-regulators. The organic alternative to pesticides is to encourage natural predators of insect pests instead of using poisonous insecticides.
Organic farmers promote "biodiversity" and allow plants other than vines to grow in and around the vineyard. Biodiversity helps regulate the vineyard soil by attracting beneficial insects, spiders and predatory mites, as well as to provide shelter and food (pollen, nectar and other bugs), and replaces the need for chemical pesticides or insecticides. What cannot be fully controlled through biodiversity, can still be managed organically through the use of naturally occurring plant or mineral extracts, leaving no residues in the soil.
To answer the problem of weeds, conventional farmers use harmful chemical weed killers. The organic alternative is to allow the weeds to grow and mow them periodically so that the cut weeds rot back into the ground, thus providing organic fertilizer. This has been a true solution among hundreds of other creative or tried-and-true organic techniques. There is no doubt that growing under organic conditions protects the environment and the people that work in the vineyards from the adverse effects of pesticides, herbicides and insecticides. Organic is more than simply a way of farming. It is also a philosophy and lifestyle.
How do "organically grown" wines taste as compared to "conventionally grown" wines? Consumers and critics are beginning to agree that organically grown wines taste better than those from conventional sources. One reason is that organic vineyards have more natural resistance to poor weather or pestilence, and therefore tend to perform better in poor vintages than non-organic ones. Additionally, most organic vineyards hand pick their grapes, rather than using mechanical pickers.
This allows only the ripest and healthiest bunches to be picked, with the minimum amount of stress and damage to the vine, fruit or soil. Organic vineyards choose organic methods to obtain the ripest and richest grapes possible, with the fewest detrimental effects on the environment, and their wines reflect that dedication to quality. Smaller winemakers may be better able to follow the practices of organic farming while maintaining excellent wine production.
Some traditionalists take organically grown wine production a few steps further with even more rigorous and labor intensive techniques, following Biodynamic agricultural methods. Biodynamic farming allows the natural rhythms of the sun, moon, and planets to determine the appropriate time for planting, treating the vine and harvesting the grapes. Biodynamic farming relies on local materials such as compost from neighboring farms and support posts from nearby trees. If the wine is marked with the international sign of Demeter, the consumer is assured that the product is handpicked, made with the greatest care for agricultural integrity and harmony with natural forces. Federal and state organic regulatory groups are in place with guidelines. Organic classifications include "Organic", "Organically Grown", "Made from Organically Grown Grapes", and "Biodynamically Grown". Your decision works to reverse the pollution of our surface and groundwater supplies.