Are all our wines organic?

This is a question we receive almost daily from people who would like to join our wine club.  We thought this question deserved its own blog post and inspired us to write more in detail about what organic wine is, what other questions to ask when looking for organic wine, and finally… to find out if all of Vegan Wines’ selections are organic.

The short answer is, yes – all of our wines are organic.  Are they all certified? No, in the same fashion as we don’t believe in relying on and requiring vegan certifications for our wines, we approach organic wines the same.

Let’s start with the definition of organic wine.  The definition actually varies, depending on whether the wine is from the U.S. or Europe.   However, for both it requires wine to be made with organically grown grapes and excludes the use of artificial chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides.

In the U.S., no added sulfites are allowed in certified organic wine, while in Europe added sulfites are allowed, but with lower maximums than conventional wines.  For wines to be certified organic in Europe, the sulfite limit is set at 100 mg per liter for red wine and 150 mg/L for white and rosé.

Still, organic regulations in the EU do allow for certain processes such as filtration, heat treatments and reverse osmosis, because to date, ‘no alternative technique has been created to replace them. ‘ [1]

What exactly is sulfites? Sulfur, a naturally occurring element, is permitted in organic vineyards as a non-toxic fungicide. Added during wine production or bottling, the compound sulfur dioxide protects against oxidation and microbes, keeping wine fresh, stable and free of flaws throughout shipping and non-refrigerated storage. A small but growing number of producers make no-sulfite-added wines; however, most winemakers believe some sulfites are essential to making quality wine for commercial distribution. [2]

Some wine growers believe that sulfites are synthetic, and if sulfites are allowed to be added in organic winemaking, boundaries are being stretched to perhaps allow other ingredients too.  Others argues for the use of sulfites, as they believe a certain amount is required to keep wine stable for commercial sale.


(Important note: People confuse “no sulfites” with “no added sulfites” on the label. In short, wines always will contain sulfites, as it’s a natural byproduct of fermentation.  There are more sulfites in dried fruit, chocolate and orange juice than in wine, yet wine gets the blame for containing sulfites. )

As we discussed, organic wine must be made from organic grapes without any manmade chemicals or weed killers.   Still, organically farmed grapes can use copper, Sulphur dioxide (SO2) and vine treatments from vegetable and mineral extracts. 

This is one of the reasons Pierre Bernault, the owner of one of our wineries, Chateau Beausejour in Bordeaux, will not go for the organic certification because he believes the copper will destroy his vines.  And rightfully so, because copper is a heavy metal that is highly toxic to both humans and animals.

There are other loopholes with organic certifications.  Among others, at the start of organic certification programs, 77 non-organic ingredients were on the allowable list, and today 245 ingredients are listed.

Here is the definition and requirements for USDA Certified organic wines according to Organic Vineyard Alliance:

“Grapes that are certified organic under the USDA National Organic Program must be grown, handled and processed in accordance with uniform national standards. When wine is labeled organic by the USDA it means that the entire production cycle – from grape in the field to wine in the bottle – has been done in a way that promotes ecological balance, conserves biodiversity, and uses unadulterated ingredients.

Growers producing USDA certified organic grapes must pass a certification inspection every year. No synthetic pesticides or chemical herbicides are used to produce wine certified organic. No sulfites are added. Native yeasts can be used but are not mandatory. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) may not be used.”

It’s important to note that 1) there is a difference between USDA Certified Organic wine and wines with labels that read “Made with Organic Grapes”.  The latter allows for up to 100 ppm of sulfites, and 2) organic is not synonymous with vegan.

Conversely, conventional wines can, and do add hundreds of different chemicals, in addition to sugar, oak chips and flavor agents.  For a complete list of U.S. approved additives and processes for wine, refer to this list[3] Pretty shocking, right?

Now that we have a better understanding of what organic wine is, and how they differ among countries, why do we at Vegan Wines not necessarily require the official certification for our wines?

Here are our 4 top reasons:

  1. We work with mainly small family vineyards, who cannot afford, or who don’t care about getting certified (it’s a lengthy process, up to 5 years, as well as expensive). They have been practicing organic, natural winemaking for decades, and we personally have visited each vineyard to confirm this.   Many of these farmers would rather spend the money on making better wines, wines that take time to develop and are not rushed to market.
  2. As we represent wines from both Europe and the United States and beyond, we cannot stand behind organic certifications that allow for additives that simultaneously will destroy the earth and life of the vine and wine.  Legislation for organic cellar practices in the EU, for instance, has made specific allowances for the use of non-organic additives including gum arabic, tannins, gelatin (which is not vegan) and yeasts. [4]   Our winemakers use far fewer additions than many certified organic winemakers we know, and certainly no animal ingredients, so why pursue a certification?
  3. Certifications are popping up left, right and center everywhere, and unfortunately many times labeling is about generating income versus actually caring about the winemaking practices.  As seen in point #2, there are many loopholes in certifications, and we prefer to support those growers and producers who are committed a holistic, natural way of making wine.
  4. Organic farms are allowed to use manure from livestock grown in confinement and fed GMO feeds. Glyphosate, the carcinogenic active ingredient in Roundup by Monsanto, is the most widely used herbicide in conventional farming. And it is allowed in manure used to grow organic produce.  Regulations require heating the manure to 150 °F to kill microorganisms. But heating doesn’t dissolve other contaminants from animal feed like lead, mercury, pesticides, herbicides, drugs, and other environmental pollutants.

The problem occurs because the USDA defines manure, whether it’s from organic or non-organic livestock production, as an allowed “organic” fertilizer, as it came from a living organism. This means that organic farmers are permitted to use manure from non-organic cattle, chicken houses, pig barns, and fish farms.

Another thing to consider, is that farms who would like to certify as organic but are located within a certain distance to a farm that is not, they will not quality.  Even if their soil and methods are different. While one might understand that to a point, because of the possibility of the wind carrying with it pesticides from conventional farms using crop dusters, etc. you can see the whole certification process becomes very tricky and not as straight forward as one might think.

This is not to say that certifications are all together useless.  They do provide wine lovers with some indication of what they can expect.  However, Vegan Wines was created to fulfill a bigger mission: to set higher standards for what is consider both organic (or natural) and vegan.

In short, Vegan Wines want to represent wines where the least amount of ingredients is added and removed in order to show the magic of what nature can do.

Resources:

  1. Jane Anson, Wine Revolution. London: Jacqui Small. 2017. Print.
  2. https://www.winespectator.com/webfeature/show/id/46432
  3. Alice Feiring, Approved Wine Additives.   Nov 16th, 2010. Web. January 14, 2019.
  4. Isabelle Legeron, MW. Natural Wine. London: CICO Books. 2017. Print
  5. http://janeshealthykitchen.com/uh-oh-growing-loopholes-in-organic-regulations/

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