Do you know what it takes to be certified organic?
Over the past couple of years, we’ve had more and more people interested in our organic wine. While we are so stoked about this, most people don’t know exactly what it means to be certified organic.
Is it sulphur free? Is it the same as biodynamic or minimal intervention? Is it a natural wine? Is it vegan and celiac friendly?
With so many terms floating around out there, we thought we’d put together some information to clarify this so you know if organic wine is safe for you, or just something you want to try.
Organic wine means the grapes are grown, and the wine is made with no synthetic in-puts, artificial chemicals, pesticides, weedicide, fertilizers and GMO’s (genetically modified organisms).
By the way, organic doesn’t imply that the wine doesn’t have additives. There is, in fact, a list of additives that are allowed in organic wines. While Salena Estate Organic wines are vegan friendly, not all brands are so be sure to check the back of the label carefully.
Becoming certified organic is a 3-year process to convert a vineyard from normal production to organic production and this is done through the ACO (Australian Certified Organic), who are Australia’s organic produce governing body.
Biodynamic viticulture is the practice of balancing this resonance between vine, man, earth and stars. Essentially, biodynamics is a holistic view of agriculture. Biodynamics occur primarily in the vineyard before winemaking even happens.
All the various tasks, from planting, pruning, to harvesting, are regulated by a special biodynamic calendar and divided days into four categories: Root, Fruit, Flower and Leaf Days. Each biodynamic calendar day coincides with one of the four classical elements of Earth, Fire, Air and Water that have been used since before Plato’s era:
- Fruit Days:Best days for harvesting grapes
- Root Days:Ideal days for pruning
- Flower Days:Leave the vineyard alone on these days
- Leaf Days:Ideal days for watering plants
Natural wine is the unfiltered, untamed, un-photo shopped version of what we know to be wine. In most cases, natural wine doesn’t look or taste like a typical wine. In fact, some natural wines taste more like a sour beer or kombucha.
Strictly speaking, natural wines are wines that are produced without adding or removing anything during winemaking, although some growers add tiny quantities of sulphites at bottling, so that strictly speaking their wines are not natural wines, but ‘only’ organic (and possibly biodynamic).
Minimal Intervention Wine:
Can also be called lo-fi or small batch wines and are often confused with natural wines due to there being many cross overs between the two.
While this process still follows the ‘less is more’ mantra, so no manipulation through the cellar, no adjusting for acidity, no adding tannins or new oak. Where the different start is that some sulphur can be added at the time of bottling for preservation.
So, after all of this what’s the deal with sulphites?
Sulphites have gotten a bit of a bad reputation in recent years with the introduction of the above-mentioned wines being more available, however sulphites are not all bad.
But what exactly are sulphites?
Sulphur dioxide (SO2) is a preservative used in winemaking that kills yeasts and bacteria and protects wine from oxidation, and is used extensively in conventional winemaking in order to avoid potential for spoilage.
Is it bad for you?
Apart from the potential allergic reaction, many people are against sulphites, because they feel they are an unnatural addition when making wine. While that view is valid, it is important to remember that sulphites are also a natural by-product of the yeast metabolism during fermentation. So even if you do not add any additional SO2, your wine will still contain sulphites.
Ok, and what is it used for?
SO2 plays an important role in preventing oxidization and maintaining a wine’s freshness.
There are very few wines that are made without some use of SO2. This is because wine is perishable, prone to oxidation and the development of aldehyde off-odors. SO2, particularly for white wines, is important for freshness. Wines without any SO2 generally have a shorter shelf life – about six months, and need to be kept in perfect storage conditions. Given that a winemaker has very little control over the wine’s storage conditions from the time the wine leaves the winery until it is consumed, it is little wonder that SO2 is so widely used to help guarantee that the bottle of wine you open will be fresh and clean, and taste as the winemaker intended.
So how do we know what wines have sulphur in them?
Any wine containing more than 10 parts per million (ppm) of sulphur dioxide must affix to the label ‘contains sulphites’
A number of organic and biodynamic wines are preservative free, but not all of them. However, in Australia, organic wines can contain minimal sulphur dioxide and still comply with ACO standards. ACO laws allow for up to 100 parts per million of SO2.
The only way to know if a wine is preservative or sulphur free is to look for ‘Contains sulphites’ or ‘Preservative 220’ on the label – this indicates the use of sulphur dioxide.