Thursday, October 19, 2000
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, of the 560 million pounds of herbicides and fungicides used by the agricultural industry each year, 375 million pounds are carcinogenic or potentially carcinogenic. It is no wonder concerns are growing about what we eat and drink. The term "organic" used to be associated with hippies and counterculture. Today, it has become a powerful marketing tool.
The California Certified Organic Farmers inspects and certifies member growers as meeting standards that exceed even California health and safety code requirements under the California Organic Food Act. Vineyards are eligible for organic registration with the state once they have been free for at least three years of synthetic fungicides, herbicides and pesticide, soil fumigants and other products.
With the growing interest in natural and organic food products, the availability of wines made with organically farmed grapes is increasing dramatically. Buena Vista, Chalk Hill, Davis Bynum, Everett Ridge, Fetzer, Frog''s Leap, Kenwood, Lolonis, Robert Sinskey, Spottswoode, Sobon Estates, Sutter Home, and the local Heller Estate/Durney Vineyards in Carmel Valley are officially farming organically. Jekel Vineyards and Morgan are also working towards CCOF certification.
In its recent attempt to create federal standards for the use of the term "Organic" on food and beverage labels, the USDA proposed the elimination of the term "organically grown grapes" from wine labels if sulfur dioxide was used in winemaking. Obviously the USDA doesn''t understand the difference between "organic" wine and wine made with "organically grown" grapes. In response, a group called Organic Wines International is appealing to the feds. Sid Goldstein of Brown Forman is one of the founders of this movement. He thinks the USDA decision was "misguided and misinformed." His group appears to be in line for a victory, though. "We expect to hear a more reasonable ruling from the USDA in six to eight weeks," he says.
"Organic wine" is different from "organically farmed" wine. Sulfites play a hand in both.
Organic wine, as defined in California, is made first from grapes grown without herbicides, pesticides or chemical soil amendments in the grape-growing phase; and second, without the addition of sulfur dioxide solutions or sulfur salts (sulfites) in the winemaking phase. The much more common "Organically Farmed" distinction refers to wine made with organically grown grapes. These wines have sulfites added in the winemaking phase. This is a common practice giving shelf stability and other benefits. Sulfites, often mistakenly blamed for wine hangovers, are also a natural byproduct of grape fermentation, so even wines made from organically grown grapes and made without sulfite addition have trace amounts of sulfites.
For many years it has been common practice to add sulfites to wine as a protection against oxidation and bacterial spoilage. However, modern winemaking equipment allows the production of sound wines with fewer of these additives. Sulfites are naturally present in small amounts in wine and other foods since the abundant element, sulfur, takes many forms as a part of all living things. These substances are added as sulfur salts or sulfur dioxide solutions to the juice before fermentation and up until bottling. Unfortunately, sulfite additions by winemakers can be excessive, masking delicate flavors, assaulting the nose, and even causing headaches and allergic reactions in those people especially sensitive to sulfites, such as those who suffer from chronic asthma.
For years, Frey Vineyards and Organic Wine Works have produced truly organic wines. Both state clearly on their labels that 1) the grapes are grown organically; and 2) no sulfites are added during the winemaking process. But these wines tend to have a funky, rustic edge and have very little shelf stability. Brands such as Bonterra, made with organically grown grapes, have found a much wider audience.
Organic farming has a tremendous positive impact on our environment. Most organic farmers have a keen environmental awareness that goes beyond healthy, naturally reconstitutable soil. At Frey Vineyards, the organic philosophy also goes beyond just producing pesticide- and residue-free produce. It invol-ves the whole farm environment and all farming practices including soil health, efficiency in water and energy use, re-use of farming byproducts, and the use of non-polluting materials and methods in everything from product packaging to the type of fuel used in the tractor. Frey even uses recycled paper for bottle labels.
Fetzer Vineyards, one of the first wineries in the U.S. to convert to organic farming, has cut its landfill dump fees by 60 percent and developed new winery designs to accommodate fermentation of grapes and cold stabilization without huge energy losses. Fetzer has also initiated a massive oak barrel restoration program to save both money and trees. In addition to composting all organic material left over from crushing the grapes (the grape pomace), Fetzer is the only winery in the U.S. making its own polylaminate, fully recyclable capsules, thereby eliminating the capsules traditionally used to cover the corks. Fetzer and others also purchase corks in bulk from Portugal and has them shipped in containers avoiding expensive middlemen and expensive, wasteful packaging.
Both organic and organically farmed wines are made from sound, healthy fruit, with sound, healthy production methods--and with much concern for the Earth.