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If there’s something we can all agree on, it’s wine. No matter what varietal you prefer, wine is great. Necessary, and great.
But what’s the situation with organic wine?
We all know why organic food is important. Yet, we seem to forget about the importance of the nutritional value of our adult beverages.
Well today, we’re diving into everything you need to know about organic wine. Turns out, it’s actually pretty complex! There are tons of different options and verbiage to learn. What the heck are sulfites anyway?
The good news? We’re making it all easy to understand.
We learn, so we can drink!
Understanding Organic Wine Labels
Organic wine isn’t as simple as it seems.
There are 100% organic wines, and wines “made with organic grapes,” not to mention the whole biodynamic world.
Let’s dive in!
Organic wines are exactly what they sound to be.
They are made using organic farming and harvesting practices. That means no chemical fertilizers, antibiotics, synthetic hormones, artificial ingredients, genetic engineering, fungicides, preservatives, or irradiation.
In the United States, organic wines are regulated by law and must use certified organically grown grapes. They must contain less than 5% non organic ingredients to be labeled “100% organic.”
Organic wines must avoid the use of any added SO2 to keep their 100% organic status, which we’ll find out more about below.
“Made From Organic Grapes” Wine
There is also a subset of wines made with organically grown grapes that aren’t eligible to be labeled “organic.”
Many wineries choose to add sulfites as an antibacterial preservative. This extends the shelf life of the wine and enables wine to ship longer distances. But it also disqualifies their organic label.
These wines are still a step above a wine made without organically grown grapes.
“No Sulfites Added” Wine
As we mentioned above, sulfites are often added to wine to prevent oxidation and extend shelf life. “Added” is the key word here, because even 100% organically made wines can have naturally occurring sulfites.
Wines with “no sulfites added” are exactly what they sound to be. 100% organic & biodynamic wines also have no sulfites added in their processes. So if you see a wine labeled 100% organic or biodynamic, you’re also covered in the added sulfites department.
It’s much easier to avoid adding sulfites with red wine, because tannin acts as a natural antioxidant.
Biodynamic wines take things a step further. These wines are harvested sustainably following the lunar calendar. What, the what?
Basically this means the astronomical calendar and positions of the moon and planets determine when winemakes should plant and harvest.
These vineyards are usually part of a working farm, and the wine production is added into the overall sustainability of the operation.
Biodynamic wine makers also make their wine without any common manipulations like yeast additions or acidity adjustments. Basically, they’re following very strict growing and winemaking protocols.
Part of the benefit is that biodynamic wines have no added sulfites, sugar or other additives. They don’t always have the organic certification, but due to their farming processes you can usually assume they’re organic.
Biodynamic wines are not regulated by a government agency like organic wines, but they are certified by the independent Demeter Association.
Vegan Friendly Wines
Vegan friendly wines avoid using animal products within any stage of the winemaking process.
Some wine producers use egg whites or casein during the clarifying or sediment reducing processes. Vegan friendly wine producers use a clay-type product for clarification instead.
Wines with a Sustainability in Practice (SIP) certification go above and beyond in terms of sustainability practices. The SIP program values:
- Social responsibility
- Water management
- Safe pest management
- Energy efficiency
- Evolving practices
There is a bit more flexibility in this certification (although some organic and biodynamic wineries also hold this). Wineries with SIP certifications must hold a commitment to social and environmental responsibility for their workers and the greater community.
Not all small wineries can afford the organic certification, but that doesn’t mean they’re not banging out some super high quality wines.
OK, But What’s Really the Deal With Sulfites?
Sulfites appear naturally in many fermented foods, and they are usually added for their antioxidant and antibacterial properties. Sulfite is an inclusive term for sulfur dioxide (SO2). They are widely used in the winemaking industry.
The FDA reports that sulfites are generally harmless to consume, unless you have a sensitivity to sulfites or suffer from severe asthma. A sulfite-sensitivity would mean you do not have the particular enzymes to break down sulfites in your body. It’s estimated that less than 1% of the U.S. population has this.
Despite this, sulfites have developed quite a reputation.
Some people believe:
- Sulfites in wine causes headaches
- Red wine has more sulfites, therefore causes more headaches
- Wine should be totally avoided due to sulfites
- Sulfites are unnatural
However, wine scientists will tell you:
- Medical research is not definite on the relationship between sulfites and headaches. There are other compounds, like histamines and tannins, that could be more likely to be connected to headaches.
- White wines actually contain more sulfites than red wines. Red wines contain tannins which is a stabilizing agent, and usually go through malolactic fermentation, which means less sulfur dioxide is needed to protect the wine during winemaking and maturation.
- Wine contains around 10 times less sulfites than most dried fruits.
- Sulfites are a natural by-product of yeast metabolism during fermentation. That means even if you aren’t adding additional SO2, the wine will contain sulfites.
There are very few wines made without any use of SO2.
Wine is perishable and prone to oxidation, so SO2 is pretty important for freshness. Especially in white wines.
Wines without any SO2 have a shorter shelf life, which can be around 6 months. They also have specific recommended storage conditions.
Does having sulfites in your wine give you a headache? You may have to eat some dried fruit to compare the results to really know.
Does Buying Organic Wine Matter?
Caring about the wine you buy is just as important as caring about the other food and produce you buy.
Do you try really hard to buy organic produce when you can? Well, then why not your wine?
Wine isn’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, so wineries are under no obligation to share what goes into each bottle. Even worse, according to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, 60 chemical materials can be legally added to wine. And you guessed it, these 60 chemicals are not required to be on the label.
Common additives in wine include copper sulfate (hides smells), Velcorin (chemical sterilizer) and added sugars.
Due to the lack of regulation, it’s hard to be as careful with your wine as you are with your food.
If you want to keep your wine as high quality as your food, it’s time to go clean.
Now onto the important stuff. Where do we BUY all the organic wine?
Where to Buy Organic Wine
Where are the best places to buy organic and biodynamic wines? Check out all the options below.
Thrive Market is the perfect online store to buy all you’re healthy goodies at a discount, and they carry clean wine too!
They partnered with Master Sommelier Josh Nadel to pick clean wines meeting the highest standards from around the world, right to your door.
Not a Thrive Market member yet? Use this code to get 25% off your first order! Yep, 25% off clean wines that are already up to 50% off, delivered to your door. Literally, who can say no to that?
Thrive Market will give you the best variety or clean wines to choose from without having to leave your home. You can even ease your way in with a starter pack!
Dry Farm Wines
Dry Farm Wines is a natural wine club putting product quality first. All of their curated wines are all natural, additive free, lab tested for purity, sugar-free, and low alcohol.
Dry Farm Wines also only works with small, sustainable family farms. What do you need to know about their natural wines? It’s all right here:
- Sugar free
- Mold free
- Lower sulfites
- Lower alcohol
- No industrial additives
- Dry-farmed (no irrigation)
- Small productions
- Low carb-friendly
- Naturally or biodynamically farmed
- Wild native yeast
- Older vines (35-100 years)
- Minimal intervention
Similar to an actual winery club, you can join Dry Farm Wines Friend of the Farm Wine & Social Club. Choose from monthly or every month, and quantities of six or 12 bottles. Varietal choices are red, white, or mixed. They’ve also launched a Rose membership as well.
They have complimentary shipping and you can cancel anytime.
Revel sources wine from the best organic vineyards around the world so you can buy it online.
You can shop their curated selection of organic wines online and schedule regular shipments for delivery.
If you join their membership, you can get member pricing (around 15% savings) nad complimentary shipping on 12+ bottle orders. You also get first dibs on new wines and exclusive promos and California winery tastings.
Usual wine is clean wine, by the mini bottle. They serve up red and rose wines in glass sized bottles with no additives, sulfites, or sugars, and all while using sustainable practices.
Their promise to wine drinkers is no added sugars, no added sulfites, no pesticides, no corkscrews, and no stale wine.
While there are only two wine options at the moment, Usual is a great option for those who struggle with opening and finishing a whole bottle without letting some go to waste. If single servings are your jam, Usual may be exactly what you need.
Local Organic Wine
The best place to buy organic wines is local. If you’re lucky enough to live near a wine mecca, buy directly from the vineyard! Since organic wines can have a shorter shelf life, you’ll be able to get to them faster. Plus you won’t pay any shipping costs and you’re leaving less of a waste footprint as well.
To look for clean wineries near you or where you’ll be traveling, just google the specific type of wine you’re looking for and explore the options!
As you can see, there is A LOT to unpack when it comes to organic wines.
Now that you know a little bit about different verbiage, start taking a closer look at the bottles available to you.
Are there any organic or biodynamic options at your local grocery or liquor store? Do you live near any wineries? Are you ready to try ordering from an online shop?
Pick an option and dive on in. Cheers!
Is caring about the quality of food you eat kind of your jam? Check out the 10 best organic meat delivery services online.