For more than a decade organic foods have gained popularity because people have become increasingly conscious about the foods they choose to put into their bodies. Even large fast food chains like Chipotle are investing heavily into supporting local, sustainable farmers in an effort to put forth a healthier, better product as shown in this eye opening video they produced in 2014. Whole Foods and local organic stores are popping up everywhere and we know all about the benefits of organic foods, but what about organic red wine? What makes an organic red wine? How do we know if the wine is organic and what qualifications must the wine have in order to be considered organic? The purpose of this post is to answer these questions by providing a brief definition of organic red wine, the farming practices, and where organic wine is made in the United States.
What Makes A Red Wine Organic?
Organic wines start in the vineyards - legally they cannot contain any pesticides, herbicides or any artificial fertilization. The grapes have to grow naturally, which makes life extremely tough for the farmers in the vineyard. If there is Phylloxera in the vineyards there is almost nothing a vineyard manager can do to stop the pest from ruining his or her grapes. However, there are precautions a vineyard manager can take, for example, planting St. George rootstocks in the vineyards.
In order for a wine to be Certified Organic and bear the USDA organic seal, the wine must 1) be made from organically grown grapes and 2) cannot have any added sulfites, although it may contain naturally occuring sulfites. In non-organic wine, Sulfur is generally sprayed in the vineyards and during the barreling process. The chemical kills the fermentation process, which in return, readies the wine to be bottled. Sulfur also acts as a preservative - it prevents the wine from oxidizing and becoming vinegar. One important distinction to note is that a wine CAN be made with organic grapes and not wind up being classified as Certified Organic. This most often occurs because a winery decides to add sulfites during the winemaking process.
Can You Age Organic Red Wine?
Since organic red wine does not include added Sulfurs, it generall will not age well in comparison to its non-organic counterparts. Check out this post on aging wine if you're curious about what types of wines you should lay down for a while. If you're anything like me and you're looking for great wines that are ready to drink now, organic red wine is a great option. Most organic wines only last a few years after the year they were picked, which gives you about a year to drink the wine after it has been released, but this does not mean that many of them aren't excellent in quality.
Which Regions Are Best Known For Organic Red Wine?
Lake County and Mendocino County are best known and suited for organic wines and it isn’t even close. Napa Valley is known for their bold Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County for Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Chardonnay, but Lake County are Mendocino County are most popular for organic wines. Located just north of Napa Valley, the entire AVA of Lake County is rugged, beautiful, and dedicated to organic and biodynamic farming. Over the last two decades Lake County has made a conscience effort to restore the land to it’s nature state and let the vines thrive naturally. Mendocino County lies just to the North of Sonoma County and is home to well over a dozen organic and biodynamic wineries. A couple personal favorites in this region include McFadden Vineyard (the owner's names are Guiness and Jameson) and Saracina.
It's easy to assume all red wines are similar and none of them are particularly healthy for you, but in reality organic wines are actually quite a bit healthier than non-organic wines and there are some really great options to choose from. If you drink wine regularly, the added health benefits of switching to organic wines can really add up. So, next time you cook up an organic meal don’t be afraid to pick up a bottle of organic red wine to go along with your grass-fed beef and kale. I promise, you won’t be disappointed. Cheers!