Organic wine is becoming more and more popular each year. But what is it, exactly? And why should you care about it?
In this blog post, we'll discuss the benefits of organic wine and why you might want to drink them in place of commercial wines. We'll also answer some common questions about organic wine, such as "what are the differences between organic and conventional wines?" and "Is organic wine better for you?". So if you're interested in learning more about this growing trend, keep reading!
What is organic wine?
Organic wine is made from grapes that are grown without the use of non-organic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilisers.
Organic winemaking also often involves minimal intervention during the winemaking process itself. This includes avoiding the use of additives, such as sulphites, though the regulation of this varies country by country.
The organic wine industry is regulated by a number of different organisations, such as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Australian Certified Organic (ACO) and the European Union (EU). In order to be labelled as organic, a wine must meet certain standards set by the relevant organisation.
Is most wine made with organic grapes?
Unfortunately, organic wine is still a minority in the overall wine market. According to a recent study, organic wines accounted for only 5.5% of the total global wine market in 2016, and organic vineyards occupy an even lower percentage of grape-growing land, since not every vineyard is used for growing wine grapes.
However, this number is expected to grow in the coming years as more and more consumers are becoming interested in organic wine, and many winemakers switch to organic farming.
Are only certified organic wines really organic?
There's a common misconception that only certified organic wines are truly organic. However, this is not the case. In order for a wine to be certified organic, it must meet a certain set of standards set by the certifying organisation. But this does not mean that non-certified organic wines are not organic.
In fact, many wine producers who do not look to receive organic certification still use organic practices and farm organically. When you think about it, all farming was organic farming once upon a time, and the entire world was drinking organic wines. It's only with the advent of synthetic fertilisers and other agrochemicals that the term "organic" was even needed.
A lot of winemakers are just doing what their forefathers have done for generations before them - making their own compost, relying on beneficial insects for pest control, and leaving the fermentation process to native yeast.
There's a fair bit of cost and bureaucracy associated with organic certification, which can be a serious barrier to smaller producers, hence why many smaller organic winemakers choose not to bother with it.
The ease by which one attains organic certification also varies country by country, with many different governing bodies vineyards and wineries can turn to depending on their location.
What's the difference between organic wine and regular wine?
The difference between organic wine and regular wine is that organic wine is made with organic grapes, and while regular wine is made with conventionally grown grapes.
Organic certification is mostly focused on what's happening in the vineyard rather than the winemaking process. An organic winemaker could still, for example, add sugar to the wine (as long as the sugar was organic as well), either because they want the wine to taste sweet or to boost the alcohol level of the wine, or use organic egg whites to clarify the wine prior to bottling.
This is why if you're looking for a pure wine, a sugar free wine, or vegan friendly wine, it's important to watch out for organic wines that are still mass-produced and full of additives, just like conventional wines, but have the organic label on them. These types of wines tend to be found in larger bottle shops, and typically come at a price of around $25.
For wines that really live up to what organic wines and winemaking are meant to be all about, one must sometimes look to natural wineries that have a philosophy of making wine as naturally as possible.
Is there a difference between organic wine and wine made with organically grown grapes?
This is a distinction specific to American wines. In the US, for a wine to be labelled as 'organic wine' it needs to contain no added sulphur dioxide. While this is wonderful in theory, a small amount of sulphur added right before bottling is not generally a big deal, even in the natural wine movement, which is dead-set against the use of additives, since sulphur dioxide is a naturally occurring byproduct of the wine fermentation process anyway.
'Wine Made From Organic Grapes' is basically the American winemakers' equivalent of organic wine in Australia and the EU - organically grown grapes, but some with additives still allowed.
What is the difference between natural wine and organic wine?
The difference between natural wine and organic wine is that organic wine is mostly about what happens in the vineyard rather than the winery. Both organic and natural wines must be made from organically grown grapes, but natural winemaking dictates that nothing is to be added or taken away during the winemaking process.
This means no chemicals or processing aids can be added, the wine cannot be chaptalised (sugar added pre-fermentation to increase the alcohol level), and modern processes like reverse osmosis cannot be used. Natural winemakers believe everything that a finished wine needs is already present in the grapes, as long as the health of the vineyard is looked after by focusing on sustainability and the environment first and foremost.
In the second phase of a wine's creation, the actual winemaking should be as low-intervention and hands-off as possible so as not to interfere with what the vines have painstakingly created over the course of an entire vintage.
The only point of contention here is sulphur, with some in the natural wine world stating that any added sulphites disqualify a wine from being natural, while the majority tend to agree that a small amount of sulphur added just prior to bottling is acceptable. This small amount of sulphur goes a long way to prevent the wine from oxidising prematurely, and keeping it stable during the traumatic bottling process. At Feravina, we cap total sulphur content to 50ppm, so that those who have sulphite sensitivities can enjoy wine without the typical headaches, rashes and sinus issues often experienced with commercial wines that can contain up to 250ppm sulphur.
Organic winemaking, on the other hand, can technically involve any number of additives just as long as they're organic, but this varies greatly from producer to producer.
What is the difference between organic and biodynamic wines?
The difference between organic and biodynamic wine is mostly in farming practices. Think of biodynamic farming as 'organic plus' - not doing any of the bad stuff that's already not allowed in organic farming, then taking extra steps to protect the health of the vines and encourage them to thrive as much as possible.
Both methods avoid the use of things like round-up (aka glyphosate) but while an organic grape grower might be fine with using organic herbicides in their vineyards, a biodynamic farmer would tend to the environment in the vineyards and try to create an ecosystem in which the pests attacking the vines and grapes are taken care of by appropriate predators (such as ladybugs eating aphids) rather than chemicals.
Due to biodynamic viticulture being so much more labour intensive, it's hard to do on a large scale, and biodynamic labels are usually small, independent or family-run affairs, making limited runs of hand-crafted wines. At Feravina, we offer a range of both organic and biodynamic wines.
Does organic wine taste better?
While there are some low quality organic wines out there, generally speaking, organic farming, and especially biodynamic farming, while more labour intensive, leads to significantly higher quality fruit being produced. Better fruit, unsurprisingly, makes better wine.
This is especially seen in natural wines, which are not only organic but also made using minimal intervention winemaking. The resulting wines tend to have more purity and life, which most wine lovers would agree is a good thing.
Is organic wine healthier for you?
There's no definitive answer to this question. Some people believe that drinking organic wine is better for one's health because it is made with organic grapes and doesn't contain synthetic chemicals (unless made in a commercial way, of course). While many commercial wine producers say these chemicals don't find their way into the final product, this can never be guaranteed, and if we want to avoid these chemicals, it's simpler and safer to avoid non-organic wine and stick to drinking organic wine or biodynamic wine.
Studies have also shown that when compared to conventional wine, organic red wine contains higher levels of antioxidants, and in particular resveratrol, the health benefits being well-documented. This is likely because if pesticides aren't widely used in the vineyard, the fruit has to protect itself by increasing the concentration of some of these compounds in the grape skins, which act like natural pesticides, or more a pest repellant, right there in the berries themselves.
It's important to note though, that it isn't necessary to drink wine in order to gain these health benefits, and while a glass of wine or a bottle between several friends is hardly a tragedy, if you don't drink, this is no reason to start.
Do organic wines have less sulphites than regular wine?
Organic wines often have less sulphites than regular wine, however, there is no guarantee. In some countries and jurisdictions, like the EU, regulations stipulate a lower minimum sulphur level for wine labelled as organic.
This is not the case in Australia though, and Australian organic wine is allowed to have just as much added sulphites as a conventional wine. If you tend to react to sulphites in wine, browse our low-sulphur wines.
Is organic wine better for hangovers?
The biggest thing that influences hangovers when it comes to wine is the difference between having a bottle or multiple bottles...
While drinking lower-alcohol wine can certainly reduce hangovers, as can drinking wine lower in acetaldehyde (more on this in another blog), neither of these are directly linked to a wine being organic or not. At Feravina, we offer lower-alcohol wines, capping alcohol content at 13.5% ABV, for those who love drinking wine yet want to minimise their intake of alcohol.
The final verdict on organic wine?
We believe that organic wine is worth seeking out, whether for health reasons, environmental concerns or simply because it tastes better. There are some great organic wines out there, and more and more producers are moving towards organic or biodynamic viticulture practices every day.
If this article has piqued your interest, all our wines at Feravina are either organic or biodynamic, produced with natural winemaking practices with no added sugar, minimal sulphur, and they're vegan friendly too. So if you're ready to dip your toe in and give these wonderful wines a try, there's no better place than right here. Shop our wine collection today.