Whether you’re a wine connosieur or just enjoy an occasional glass of red table wine with dinner, it is definitely worth looking for a greener glass of wine i.e. organic or biodynamic wines. There are various reasons for avoiding conventionally-produced wines.
A bottle of conventionally produced wine may contain up to 250 different types of chemicals but a wide selection of wines that come from vineyards that avoid using synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fungicides are now available.
As its name suggests, 100% organic wines must contain 100% organically produced ingredients and have been processed using only organically produced aids, not counting added water and salt. In addition, winemakers cannot introduce added sulfites to 100% organic wines, as sulfites are considered to be a synthetic food additive.
Does that mean that 100-percent organic wines are sulfite-free? Naturally occurring sulfites are found on grapes, onions, garlic and many other plants; they are nature’s way of protecting plants from harmful microbes. During the winemaking process, natural sulfites are also produced when the grapes are fermented.
In a 100% organic wine with no added sulfites, there are likely to be naturally occurring sulfates present in amounts ranging from six to 40 parts per million. Compare this amount to conventional non-organic wines, which may contain sulfite levels up to 350 parts per million.
When used properly, sulfites are not inherently toxic to humans or the environment. Only about 0.4 percent of the population is highly allergic to sulfites, while others with a low tolerance for sulfites may be considered sulfite-sensitive. Winemakers have used added sulfites for centuries to prevent spoilage and bacteria growth, as well as to preserve the wine’s natural flavour.
To find a 100-percent organic wine, look for a statement declaring the wine to be 100 percent organic as well as the name of the agency that certified the wine; the bottle may also bear the European flag organic seal.
But “100% organic” isn’t the only label you may find on a wine bottle listing organic ingredients. Wines marked as simply “organic” must be made from at least 95% organically produced ingredients, not counting added water and salt, and cannot have added sulfites. Like 100% organic wine, organic wines must list their certification agency and may carry the European flag organic seal.
You may also see wines that boast that they are made with organic grapes. Wines labelled as “made from organic ingredients” are required to contain at least 70% organically produced ingredients, not counting added water and salt. These wines will not display the European flag organic seal and are allowed to contain added sulfites – up to 100 parts per million.
If you pick up a bottle of biodynamic wine at your local wine shop, you’re not only guaranteed a taste of organic grapes, but also a vineyard that takes sustainability well beyond shunning pesticides and other chemicals.
Unlike organic farming, which often simply replaces synthetic fertilizers and herbicides with naturally-derived products, biodynamic farming is a holistic agricultural method that treats the farm like a living organism, rather than a factory.
Instead of bringing in outside fertilizers and pesticides, biodynamic farmers build soil fertility and manage pests by encouraging biodiversity among crops, livestock and wildlife and by using specially prepared farm-generated outputs like composted animal manures, plants and minerals. These farmers also aim to conserve their farm’s resources, especially water and soil.
Modern biodynamic farming is based on agricultural principles proposed by Austrian scientist Rudolf Steiner in 1924, as a reaction to the declining soil fertility and crop quality farmers observed as they adopted industrial farming techniques like monoculture and synthetic fertilizers.
A vineyard cannot legally refer to its farming practices or products as “biodynamic” without being certified by the nonprofit Demeter Association.
Once the vineyard is certified as biodynamic, its grapes are considered biodynamic, but the finished product – the wine itself – cannot be labelled as biodynamic unless it goes through Demeter’s secondary verification program for processed agricultural products.
To ensure you’re purchasing a biodynamic wine, try to find a statement saying that both the vineyard and the finished wine product have been certified by the Demeter Association, and look for the organization’s biodynamic seal.
You may be surprised to learn that not all wine is vegan or even vegetarian.To filter the wine prior to bottling, most winemakers use ingredients derived from animals such as egg whites, milk proteins (caseins) or gelatin from fish bladders or cow and pig hooves. These animal products help remove solid impurities like grape skins or yeast from the fermentation process and can adjust the wine’s tannin levels, resulting in a clearer, brighter and better-tasting wine.
While vegans will want to avoid wines processed with any of these animal products, vegetarians who still drink milk and eat eggs will need to steer clear of wines filtered with gelatine.
Fortunately for vegans and vegetarians, it is possible for winemakers to process their wine manually or using minerals like bentonite or kaolin. But how can you be sure you’re sipping on a vegetarian or vegan wine? While there are no government labelling requirements for the use of animal products in wines, you may find that some wines are marked as vegetarian- or vegan-friendly. If there is no indication on the labelling, you may have to call the wine company directly to inquire about their use of animal ingredients.