Along with our desire to eat organically, we want to drink organically, too. There’s been an influx of organic wines available, but lots of confusion about what constitutes an organic wine.
Organic labels on wines have a long history. In 1990, the National Organic Food Act was passed by congress. The goal was to protect everyone involved from production to consumption, by making sure that products labeled organic were indeed organic. Over the course of the years, and involvement by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), the ability for a winery to label wines as certified organic has been based on inspection of the winery’s raw materials, and methods of production. With the involvement of the National Organic Program (NOP), guidelines have been set, and there are now four categories that an organic wine can fall into: 100% Organic, Organic, Made with Organic Ingredients, and Some Organic Ingredients.
What the heck do the labels mean?
- 100% Organic – Must be made from 100% organic ingredients, and bear an ingredient statement with information about the certifying agency. Cannot have added sulfites (naturally occurring is fine, but must be less than 100 parts per million). This wine will have the USDA Organic seal on it.
- Organic – Must be made from 95% organic ingredients, and have an ingredient statement that lists organic ingredients, and give information about the certifying agency. Sulfite guidelines are the same as for 100% organic wines. The 5% non-organic ingredient must be an ingredient that is not available in organic form or another added substance such as yeast.
- Made with Organic Ingredients – Must be made with a minimum of 70% organic ingredients, have an ingredient statement and information about the certifying agency. This type of wine may not bear the USDA seal. It may contain added sulfites, but still must be less than 100 ppm. The 30% of non-organic ingredients must not be available in organic form or must be another added substance.
- Some Organic Ingredients – Will contain less than 70% organic ingredients and cannot bear the USDA seal or have information about a certifying agency.
What about sulfites?
Sulfite or sulfur dioxide is a preservative used in wines. There is a small percentage of the population that suffers sensitivity to sulfites in spite of the fact that they do have strong antimicrobial properties some antioxidant properties. Unless a wine has a sulfite concentration less than 10 parts per million, it cannot claim to be sulfite-free, and must bear a label that reads, “Contains Sulfites”.
To find a wine that is organic, or at least mostly organic, you must read the labels. Advertising can be a bit misleading, so it pays to use the guidelines here as a way to know what you are really getting.