Organic Wine or not Organic Wine?

Il Passo Verde Organic Nero d'Avola Vegan Wine
Il Passo Verde Organic Nero d’Avola

Organic wine, Vegan wine, No Sulphur wine… is it all the same?

There’s a lot of confusion around the different terms you see on wine bottles. For example, does organic mean it’s vegan? Does vegan wine have sulphur? And so on. So in a series of blogs, I wanted to clear up some of the myths around these different terms so you don’t get tricked into buying non-vegan wine. Let’s start with Organic wine as this is probably one of the most common things you will see on a wine label.

Organic

When a wine is Organic, it is simply referring to how they grow the grapes. In common with other crops, organic wine means no chemicals have been used to grow the grapes and the winemaker has achieved organic certification for their farming practices, which can be costly. However, this does not mean that no pesticides have been used. Pesticides are still used in organic farming but they must be derived from natural sources. The main pesticide/fungicide used in organic farming is copper, more specifically copper sulphate. Copper sulphate is a chemical resulting from a combination of copper compounds and sulphuric acid. Not so natural sounding now is it!

Copper sulphate

Using copper sulphate can be problematic for two reasons:

  • It can build up in the soil as it’s a heavy metal. This can render the soil toxic, which impacts the diversity/quality of the soil in terms of bacteria, fauna etc. Also, it can have a detrimental effect on the plants growing on the contaminated soils.
  • It is toxic to people and wildlife, including insects and honey bees.

Organic wine making process

Organic does not have any bearing on what happens in the actual wine making process. This means the winemaker is free to add whatever they like to wine, be it chemicals, additives, sulphur* and any fining agents they like.

* Some countries, for example the US, do have controls around how much sulphur is allowed in organic wine. 

As we already know from Why isn’t all wine vegan?, fining agents may well originate from animal products. 

Therefore organic does not guarantee the wine is vegan, neither does it imply quality.

As I mentioned, winemakers can still add chemicals, additives etc. Obviously, the winemaker’s skills are just as critical to the resulting wine whether they start with organic grapes or not. Although, to be fair, very few vineyards will go to the trouble of growing their grapes organically, getting certified and then chuck lots of chemicals in during the wine making process, BUT there is nothing stopping them.

Are organic wines worth it?

Often organic wines are more expensive compared to other similar quality wines as the organic certification process can be very expensive and/or onerous. While we recognise the importance of organic wines, we also champion the winemakers who don’t use any chemicals but are not officially organic. Often these winemakers may fall into this category because the climate (typically very hot) or natural environment (for example, high in the Andes) means they have fewer or no pests to contend with. In our view, this is even better as it spares the environment a dose of copper. You will find a filter on our website for No Chemicals to help you find these wines as they are often much better value as well.

Next time, we’ll look at sulphur in wine.