It’s Easy Being Green: Wine Goes Organic

Retailers and winemakers are promoting organic and sustainably made wines that have caught the attention of the First Family, among others.

More winemakers and winesellers are going organic. Above, a bottle of wine made from organically grown grapes. Photo by Flickr user <a href=Idiolector. (Flickr)" data-srcset=" 610w, 610w, 610w, 500w, 250w" data-sizes="auto" />
More winemakers and winesellers are going organic. Above, a bottle of wine made from organically grown grapes. Photo by Flickr user Idiolector. (Flickr)

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It’s becoming easier for environmentally conscious wine lovers to enjoy their favorite libation. Just ask the Obamas: A few weeks ago at their first official White House dinner, they served organic wine to visiting state governors. But you don’t have to be the First Family to indulge in these new wines. An increasing number of merchants, bars, and restaurants offer a range of choices in planet-friendly wines that are made from organically farmed grapes and sustainable agricultural methods that emphasize water and soil conservation.

Green wines come in many shapes and sizes, so it helps to have a little background information before sorting through the different labels. USDA-certified organic wines are grown from grapes using no chemical or artificial fertilizers, and without the use of added sulfites. Sulfites can cause a reaction similar to a food allergy and are a commonly used fruit preservative also used in wines. They occur naturally in all wines to some extent but are usually used to arrest fermentation or as a preservative.

Wines bearing the labels “made with organic ingredients,” “made with organic grapes,” or “organically grown” must have at least 70 percent organic ingredients, with the remaining 30 percent of ingredients can be either an agricultural ingredient that isn’t organic or another substance such as added yeast. These products can contain added sulfites, but the total must be under 100 parts per million.

Some organic wines also bear a biodynamic certification, which means they’re made from grapes raised on a certified organic farm whose land was managed as a living organism. Biodynamic farmers treat the vineyard holistically, employing a diversity of plants and the presence of farm animals to improve the fertility and health of the soil. Wines using rigorous biodynamic processing standards are certified by the nonprofit organization Demeter, which claims that these methods ensure sustainability and offer one of the smallest carbon footprints of any agricultural production practice. Take note, however, that biodynamic principles do allow for the use of sulfites.

No certification exists for sustainability in winemaking, but reading the label can help identify sustainable practices. These practices are generally replicable and can be maintained in the future, such as using cover crops to help prevent erosion and adding organic matter to replenish the soil with nitrogen. Other environmentally conscious winemakers turn down sprinklers, reduce the number of tractor runs, and use ladybugs for pest-control duty. Several winemaker and groups list sustainable information on their website, such as the California Winegrowing Alliance. And some wineries are going a step further and becoming Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified by the U.S. Green Building Council.

If you’re in search of a vegan wine, conventional and organic winemakers are not obligated to state on their label when they use animal byproducts such as egg whites, gelatin, and isinglass—commonly used in conventional production to clarify wine. But if the bottle wears a vegan-certified label, the winemakers took care not to use animal products or byproducts in production.

Many winesellers, bars, and restaurants are catching on to the sustainable wine trend and now offer organic and sustainably made wines on their menus. Snooth, the web-based wine catalog and social network, offers organic choices in its interactive database of over 300,000 wines. Online merchant the Organic Wine Company specializes in “eco-wines” from Europe, California, South America, and New Zealand. And when Whole Foods introduced its Green Path organic wines in 2007, the natural foods retailer made sure to package them in “envirofriendly” Tetra Paks.

Yield Bar in San Francisco is an all-organic wine bar that found its market niche with varied and popular green wines. The first of its kind in San Francisco, it offers a rotating list of environmentally friendly wines, made from organically or biodynamically farmed grapes. And New York-based caterer Swirl Events offers a wine-tasting package known as the “Eco-Chic,” an in-home fest that features organic and biodynamic wines served with artisanal cheeses.

Whether you choose to consume green or conventional wines, remember to enjoy responsibly. And regardless of your wine preference, you can take steps to reduce environmental impact by buying larger bottles, recycling the bottles when you’re done, and buying from local vineyards.

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