Organic wines are a tricky matter. There are many rules and regulations the USDA issues to give a 100-percent organic label. It can be expensive and labor intensive, and you have to go through it each year. So many wineries choose to grow organic grapes or apply organic-farming practices instead of going for USDA approval. Wineries like Benzinger, King Estate, and Tres Sabores look to nature to fertilize and keep pests away at their vineyards. These methods are called sustainable or biodynamic farming. The resulting wines are cleaner for the environment and do not include pesticides or harmful chemicals that could damage the surrounding ecosystem.
These wineries choose not to be organic, not only because of the intense amount of red tape, but also because 100-percent USDA-approved organic wines cannot contain added sulfites. Sulfites, or sulfur dioxide, are food preservatives that keep the wine from spoiling or becoming oxidized. Every bottle sold in the United States must state whether or not sulfites are added to the wine. Since sulfites naturally occur in all wines, a wine may contain no more than 10 parts per million sulfites to be labeled non-sulfited wine. Frey, Badger Mountain, and Orleans Hill wineries all go through the trials and tests that the USDA puts forth to achieve the Certified Organic seal, including not adding sulfites. Orleans Hill’s Our Daily Red is Nino’s most popular 100-percent organic wine. It is a light-bodied, dry red that is only $8.99, so if you have been meaning to try a non-sulfited wine, this would be a good place to start.
While in California last spring we stopped by the Tres Sabores Rutherford vineyard for a tasting and tour. The vineyard has sheep that roam the vineyards and surrounding land to act as live lawnmowers and fertilizers. Guinea hens patrol the property for snails, insects, and other pests, keeping the grapes bug-free. Surrounding the vineyard there are Meyer lemon, olive, and pomegranate trees that keep the soil and air rich and diverse.
Oregon is a leader on the green winery scene. Not only do wineries like Sokol Blosser have solar panels, but they also use bluebirds as pest control. King Estate has its Raptor Program utilizing Hawks and Kestrels for rodent problems. These are great ways to keep toxins off the land, and by growing cover crops and trees near streams to slow runoff, help protect salmon, one of Oregon’s major commodities.
The organic vs. biodynamic vs. sustainable wine practices argument is long and concentrated. I hope I have demystified some of the major misconceptions about the difference between wines that are organic and wines that are made with organically grown grapes. Stop in and try a bottle this week to see whether you can taste the difference!