Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Organic Wine

organic-By Ulla Merz

At the Boulder Farmers Market we frequently get asked whether our wines are organic. Most of the time I respond with a quick No, as the answer is quite complex and would take some time to explain.

To receive the USDA organic certification, wine has to be made from organically grown grapes and the addition of sulfites is not allowed.

For John and me it was always important to get a grape crop every year and to be a good steward of the land at the same time. Right from the beginning we did not use herbicide and instead bought a grape hoe for in row weeding. We also do not use pesticide. We do use sulfur, which is considered organic, to spray for powdery mildew and if temperatures reach above 90 degree Fahrenheit we use a chemical as sulfur burns the leaves and leaves are needed to ripen the grapes. 2011 is the third year we have made our own compost from apple pulp, wood chips and chicken manure, which now replaces the chemical fertilizer we used before. At this point we have no plans to become USDA organically certified.

When it comes to wine making we will continue to use sulfites as a preservative to keep our wines from oxidizing and grow bacteria that negatively affect the flavor. Personally, I think it is fun to enjoy a 15 or 20 year old bottle of wine. Winemakers, us included, also use fining agents, which either precipitate out or are removed by filtering the wine. Some of the options for fining are egg whites, casein (milk protein), gelatin, isinglass (derived from fish) and bentonite clay. Whether to use any fining agents is a preference in the style of wine, just as different people are looking for different flavors in the wine.

If the grape growing and wine making practices used to make the wine are important to you, I suggest to ask the source, which is easy and another benefit when buying local.

For further reading here is a link to an article recently published in the LA times, that talks about the complexity of organic labelling and wine.