Selecting the right year, grape varietal and wine region used to be options enough for picking the perfect wine. But as more eco-friendly wines are finding reknown among wine enthusiasts and more green claims are gracing bottle labels, wine drinkers who prefer a greener varietal can now add eco-certifications to their list of preferred characteristics. Like the difference between an Australian Shiraz and a Californian Syrah, eco-certifications for wine have subtle, yet meaningful differences. Before picking out the perfect pairing for your next candle-lit meal, read on to find out which label, USDA certified-organic or Demeter USA certified-biodynamic, indicates the better bottle.
With 23,430,900 pounds of synthetic pesticides applied to wine grape crops in California alone in 2007, it’s no wonder that growing numbers of wine drinkers now prefer a more natural grape juice. And an organic label on the bottle is a good indicator that the grapes are greener. USDA certified organic ingredients come from farms and vineyards that have refrained from using herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers or genetically modified seeds for at least three years. But since USDA organic standards allow the consumer product to come in varying shades of green, it can be difficult for the consumer to know just how natural the wine is. Here’s a breakdown of the different claims you'll find on bottle labels:
“100% Organic”: The wine is made from 100% certified organic ingredients, processed without synthetic agents and contains no added sulfites; naturally occuring sulfite levels in these wines are between 10 and 20 ppm. The label will bear the USDA organic seal, with the phrase “100% Organic”.
“Organic”: The wine is made with 95% certified organic ingredients, and contains no added sulfites. Winemakers must prove that certified organic ingredients aren’t available for the remaining 5% of ingredients. The label will bear the USDA organic seal.
“Made with Organic Grapes” or “Made with Organic Ingredients”: The wine is made with 70% certified organic ingredients, and sulfites can be added up to 100 parts per million. The label cannot bear the USDA organic seal.
The brainchild of early 20th century Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, biodynamic farming is a holistic approach to agriculture that views farms and vineyards as self-sustaining ecosystems, and the soil beneath them as a living organism. In biodynamic farming, the relationship between soil, plants, animals and astrological elements is emphasized. For instance, crops are often planted, pruned and harvested according to lunar cycles. While skeptics may question the effectiveness of farming according to the cosmos, biodynamic farms in the U.S. must pass the three-year transition-to-organic period required by the USDA's National Organic Program and cannot use synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. Furthermore, they must implement other sustainable farming practices, including energy- and water-saving techniques. Certified biodynamic wines may contain sulfites up to 100 parts per million. The Demeter USA logo on the label guarantees that the wine has been produced biodynamically.
Winner: Dual certification
Go with both labels where you can: wines sharing the USDA certified "100% Organic" and biodynamic certification will have low-sulfites and be cultivated according to the most wide-ranging sustainability standards. Otherwise, choose USDA certified “100% Organic” first to reduce sulfite content to a minimum. But when “100% Organic” wine isn’t available, and the bottle only claims “Organic” or “Made with Organic Grapes,” go for the biodynamic bottle, which is not only better for the planet, but may be better for the cosmos as well.
What are sulfites?
Sulfites are preservatives, made from diluted mined sulfur, that prevent oxidation and bacterial spoilage. Because sulfites are an ingredient that can occur in wine naturally, and mined sulfites have been used in viticulture for centuries, their inclusion in organic wine is an area of contention. While in the United States certified organic wine cannot contain sulfites, French and Italian organic standards allow them, and many U.S. winemakers argue that they should be allowed in organic wine. An American label indicating that the wine is “Made with Organic Grapes” is often a good indication that it contains added sulfites. Organic arguments aside, sulfites can cause allergic reactions in a small percentage of people. Sulfite allergy sufferers should look for wines bearing the USDA organic logo.
This article was reprinted with permission from SimpleSteps.org.
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