Please note that this section contains my personal notes on this topic.
Organic wine is organic in that it may have been produced from organically-grown grapes (generally excluding the use of artificial chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides), but it may also have been subject to technical manipulation in the winemaking process. Organic wines are not necessarily sulfite-free. The use of added sulfites is debated heavily within the organic winemaking community. Many vintners favor their use in small quantities for stabilization of wine, while others frown on them completely. In the United States, wines certified “organic” under the National Organic Program cannot contain added sulfites. Wines that have added sulfites, but are otherwise organic, are labeled “wine made from organic grapes.” — From Wikipedia
Although organic wines feel fairly new to the wine scene, Andrew Fisher, president and owner of Astor Wines & Spirits in the East Village, explains that organic and natural wine making was the norm until the mechanization of farming post WWII. Mechanization allowed farmers to reduce labor and raise production. However, to maximize production the quality of the grapes is sacrificed which severely limits the quality of wine produced.
Mechanization sacrifices the quality of grapes for several reasons. First, when ecosystems are demolished via mechanization, insects attach themselves to plant roots thereby negatively affecting the grapes’ root structure. Also, stimulating a vine with nutrients above ground deteriorates their underground structure causing plants to become weaker. Most importantly, tractors used on the land leads to compression of the soil which then inhibits the soil’s ability to absorb water. A lack of soil absorption leads to uncontrolled runoff water which is generally infected with chemicals. These chemicals are then exponentially spread throughout the surrounding environment.
Organic is defined in terms of what winemakers don’t do to their grapes–no synthetic herbicides, pesticides, insecticides, acaricides, nematicides, fungicides and genetically engineered crops (GMO’s). Instead, winemakers allow their grapes to grow in a chemical free environment. In the U.S. we have organic wines however Fisher explained that in the E.U., there is no such thing as organic wine-just organic grapes. One can have organically grown grapes, however the process in which the grapes turn to wine can deny the wine’s ability to be an organic wine. Organic certification varies by country.
As more and more vintners are returning to traditional methods of winemaking, organic wines will continue to appear in wine shops and challenge conventional chemical methods.