Organic, vegetarian, vegan, cage-free, sustainable, green, biodynamic… All of these terms are gaining more and more popularity with consumers. People nowadays are more in tune with what goes into their bodies, how things are made and the impact it has on the environment and themselves. When it comes to organic wine, there a few things to take into consideration.

USDA Organic vs EU Organic

For American wine to get the coveted USDA Organic seal, it has to meet some very strict rules. Not only does the wine have to come from organically farmed grapes, but it also has to be free of sulfites. Sulfites are added to preserve wine and usually do not present any health concerns. Wines without sulfites suffer from a greatly reduced shelf lives and in some cases, taste alterations.

Wines certified EU Organic are allowed to contain sulfites due to the different certification process in Europe. Because of this great hurdle in USDA protocol, many of the organic wines you may have available are from Europe.

Organic Doesn’t Mean Vegan

Let’s begin by saying that wine (regular wine) is not necessarily vegan. Furthermore, just because the wine is organic, it also doesn’t mean it’s vegan. Wine is filtered through fining agents. These agents can be animal-derived, such as blood, bone marrow, milk protein, eggs, fish oil and other animal based substances. USDA and EU Organic wine can also be filtered with these fining agents. Therefore, being organic, doesn’t mean it’s vegan.

Organic vs Non-Organic

Is non-organic wine really that bad? Non-organic wine can be harvested with pesticides and other chemicals in the vineyard, and can include additives in the wine itself. Studies have shown that anywhere from a few to 30 different pesticides and fungicides can be used in a single wine growing area. These chemicals are usually employed to kill insects, invasive species and fungi. These can have negative impacts on the surrounding area’s water supply, as well as creating other environmental hazards. Also note that in other countries there can be a lack of environmental regulation that can result in the usage of harsher and more dangerous chemicals. For a neat tool to find out which pesticides are being used in any particular region of California, click here:

Organic Grapes

Due to the strict no-sulfites rule of the USDA, organic growers have been relying on the “Made With Organic Grapes” label. This work-around has been used more and more, to provide consumers with American wine grown with organic grapes. Keep in mind that while these grapes were grown organically, the wines has added sulfites to elongate its shelf life. The wine sold under this label is also GMO free.

What’s Next?

In order for more American wine to be certified as USDA Organic, the USDA will have to lower its no-sulfites standards and be more competitive with the EU Organic wine. The “Made With Organic Grapes” label is a great tool for organic growers and will continue to be. With generations Y and Z coming of age and into the consumer market, organic, biodynamic and sustainable goods will be more in demand. With almost 100% of vineyards in New Zealand certified as sustainable, nearly the same amount of South African vineyards with a similar accreditation and Sonoma County committing to becoming the first 100% sustainable wine region in the US by 2019, we can definitely say that the future looks green!