Organic Wines? So confusing, I need another bottle..

Not too long ago, someone asked me the rather loaded question, “So, how are organic wines? Should I try one?”…

My answer then, as it is now, was this; “Most organic wines, due to the lack of SO2 in the finished wine, are difficult to age, if made in an inexpensive style. Some are good, some are awful, and some are made to capture the marketing edge that comes along with the tagline…”. It seems like a vague answer, but let me explain why.

For one, let’s look at organic production of grapes. After all, wine is fermented grape juice. The greatest challenge with vitis vinifera is, as a crop, you cannot rotate it like other produce. The vine, stuck for 25 to 30 years in one spot, means everything from wild boar to phylloxera gets to beat the living shit out of the vine and vineyard. Ironically, this is how vines have ensured survival for eons. How? A vine, if it has no natural predators, produces leaf growth without grapes; all it needs to do to exist is grow. The crazy stuff that grows on the side of old houses? Yep, no natural predators. Grapes are produced when the vine, stressed in low vigor or soil with little fertility, realizes it needs to ‘sow its oats’, and needs a vehicle to move its DNA. Sweet grape, meet foraging animal. Animal eats grape, goes somewhere on the other side of the meadow, and, well, you get the drift…therefore, the real challenge is to grow a plant that is resistant to both Bambi and biological pests. The path of least resistance was, ‘let’s bomb the vineyard with pesticides’, but that ended up looking like Lindsay Lohan in a dark nightclub; looks good from a distance, but when you get a little closer it is apparent that evil work is afoot. It requires a ton of work initially in the vineyard, but it can be done, and with great success.

Now, let’s talk about the wine. We have good, healthy grapes grown organically (no bad stuff in the ground), and now, we have to figure out how to stabilize the wine from spoilage. During fermentation, bacteria is always about, wanting to crash the party and turn your expensive bottle of vino into vinegar. The best protection is free sulphur, in the form of potassium metabisulphate or SO2 added to the grape juice before or after fermentation-generally it is up to the winemaker. This is where government oversight pisses most winemakers off; the USDA limits the SO2 to less than 20 parts per million, which is a tiny amount. For most enologists, that is playing Russian Roulette with your hot (and extremely expensive) prom date. You might get lucky, but you go to the prom only once…

Organic wines have come around; the quality has improved significantly as many wineries figure out how to make sound vino without over sulphuring. I am more concerned with organically grown grapes or sustainability than organic wine. For me, I look at organic or natural wines in much the same way as I do religion and spirituality; I admire Jesus as much as Buddha, or Gandhi, or the Dalai Lama. They all have something to offer, as the message is pretty much the same. It means, at the end of the day, find a GOOD bottle of wine. One that respects the environment, but isn’t afraid to be a cleaner, better product when Mother Nature treats the vintage like a red-headed stepchild. After all, ain’t that what life is all about?

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About terroirradioandtv

I am constantly humbled by the fact that I get paid to drink, talk, and walk wine. After 25 years in both hospitality and the alcohol industry, this blog provides a little education, and, hopefully, a touch of humor and perception to the world of wine and spirits. You can also find me on our internet show, wineguystv, and on clear channel/iheart radio as a co-host with Keith Miller and Becky Creighton on a weekly wine and food show called vineanddineradio.
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