Monday, December 14, 2009

Organic Wine Reviews?

Green-washing wine?


Thanks to Val in Vermont for sending us this question:  "...I oversee a blog called http://www.good-chemistry.org/ which talks of all things enviro health. We are accumulating a shopping guide for the holidays and want to include organic wines. Do you have any posts we can link to directly? Do you have an organic wine review resource?"

Organic products are very popular these days.  Very popular.  And businesses from food producers to clothiers to shoe cream manufacturers are cashing in on the craze.  And why the heck not?  The demand continues to rise and organic products are (usually) better for our bodies and our planet.

So, what about organic wines?  And, to Val's question, what about organic wine reviews?

First, a little background.  What is organic wine?  Where can I find some?  Is it any good?  And is it eco-friendly?

What is organic wine?  Simple.  It's wine made from organically grown grapes to which no foreign chemicals are added.  That means no chemical pesticides, yield-boosting sludge fertilizers, etc. (pretty much the same as other organic produce).  It also means no preservatives (sulfites) - which are very commonly added to wines.  At the end of the day, making organic wine is more about not doing certain things than it is doing anything special.  It's the less is more philosophy.

Where can I find some?  Everywhere.  Wineries like Frey and Bonterra capitalize heavily on the current market value of being organic. But they are far from unique.  There are hundreds of wineries quietly making wine from organic and biodynamically grown grapes - many of which have been doing so for decades and centuries.  Odds are pretty good that you've enjoyed organic wines and not even known it.

In many cases, these wineries have established reputations and have no need/desire to shift their brand identity to trumpet their organic methods - particularly outside the US. Organic is just how they've always done it. And consider this: there are still many grape growing regions of the world where chemical technologies haven't reached yet. These are the same cultures that are also more than satisfied to keep doing what their ancestors did.

Is it any good?  Sure.  Well, at least it can be.  But organic is no more a quality indicator than the varietal is.  There are very high caliber organic wines being made by dozens of wineries around the world, and there are others which, well, are on the weak side.
 
But do organic grapes make for eco-friendly wine?  Not necessarily.  There is a definite benefit to keeping pesticides and other chemicals out of the vineyard, the water table, and the animals that depend on both.  But the process of conventional winemaking itself is not environmentally friendly.  Carbon dioxide gas is a natural byproduct of the fermentation process, waste water management is a significant concern for wineries, and there are various chemicals used for cleaning tanks/equipment, and so on. 

There's also the seldom discussed aspect of what preceded the vineyard.  Forests are often cleared to make way for vine plantings.  And highly sought after hillside sites often become erosion problems once developed into vineyards.  Ick.

So, what about organic wine reviews?  Prior to Val's question we were unaware of any review sources that are specific to organics.  Since organic wines are far more prevalent in the market than is obviously evident, the mainstream wine press does not single them out into their own category - if they even mention it at all.  However, we did find the Organic Wine Journal online and this blog (not sure how much research went into vetting the wines as organic, but it's a nice list.)

And here are some other names to look out for:
  • Benzinger
  • Newton
  • Lolonis
  • Coturri
  • Badia a Coltibuono
  • Quivira
  • Frog's Leap
Maybe Val's touching on something here. While the vast majority of wine drinkers don't care if something's organic or not, there are two segments of consumers that do care - the conscientious and the affected (sulfites are known to trigger migraines in asthmatics). Perhaps there is a need in cyberspace for that specific coverage...

By the way, great blog, Val!