The Meat of Organic Wine

Posted by The Wine Whore |

When it comes to wine, there are many classifications that are either misunderstood, incorrectly used, or even just used to sound impressive. A while back, I confronted one such conundrum as it pertains to the term "Old Vine". Today, I would like to tackle another term that seems to be appearing more and more every day: organic.

When I think of the term organic, I envision a hydroponic farm similar to the Disney World ride "The Land". I picture space age technology in an otherwise neanderthal world. To be organic sounds impressive, but what the heck does it really mean? After all, isn't everything, myself included, technically "organic"?

These questions came flooding into my head as I examined the label of one such bottle bearing what I would consider to be this ambiguous classification. Are there any regulations or rules determining whether or not this newly release 2008 Lake County Napa Vineyard bottle of Zinfandel from X Winery is in fact "organic"?

Like all good scientists and winos, I decided to taste the wine before doing any research. This was an important phase of the investigation, so I decided finish off the entire bottle before proceeding to look up the winery's fact sheets on the internet.

Why are you staring at me like that?

Oh, did you want to know how the wine tasted? Not sure if it was due to being organic, but the fruit was fairly "soft" in this wine. It was not what I would consider a real full bodied, in your face, Richard Simmons kinda Zinfandel. That doesn't mean it was bad... it still had a nice flavor and finish. It was just a little more subdued that many others of it's type and price (~$20).

After downing a couple Tylenol to prevent the impending hangover induced by consuming the entire bottle, I noticed a few things in the fact sheets that caught my eye:

  • Sealed with a natural cork certified by the Forest Stewardship Council
  • Made from vines planted in the 1960's
  • 100% California Certified Organically Farmed (CCOF) Zinfandel

If you are like most people (myself included), this sounds impressive but what exactly does it mean?

Ok, I get the whole natural cork thing. After a quick google search I found out that the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a non-profit organization devoted to encouraging the responsible management of the world's forests. This goes back to the whole "running out of cork" scare that everyone is talking about. Personally, I always prefer corks. Not because it tastes any different... in fact, there are many reasons why screwcaps may actually be better... I like corks better because I just like the feeling of uncorking a bottle. I feel unsatisfied wrangling open a screwcap. It just isn't the same.

Moving down the list, I also understand how the age of vines can affect the taste of wine. If these vines were planted in the '60's, that means we are working with almost 50 year old vines. That's pretty good. Old vines tend to have a stronger concentration. Many wineries save their oldest and best vines for their premium wines. In my opinion, this Zinfandel didn't taste like many other "in your face" old vine Zins. There are many reasons why this would be the case, but I'll have to defer to the winery for their explanation... ahem, X Winery, care to address this? (use the comment form below)

The third item on the list is the one that fascinates me the most. Again, a google search followed by a bit of browsing revealed this information about organic food:

    Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations (USDA).

    Certified organic food in the United States is grown according to standards set by the National Organic Program.

    According to those standards, Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.

    Before a product can be labeled "organic," a USDA accredited certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified and inspected also.

Alright, now we're talking. I definitely get why organic is better... lots of buzzwords here: renewable, no pesticides, no bioengineering, no antibiotics, etc. Who in their right mind wouldn't want to put something in their body that was considered organic. The question still remains: How do organic practices affect the taste and quality of a bottle of wine? At first, I would think that it should actually taste better. But then I start wondering if maybe there is actually something about non-organic wine that our palates have come to love.

What has been your experience with organic wine? Is it just another marketing practice or is it the best practice when it comes to making wine?

The search for truth continues... looks like I'll have to keep drinking in order to find out these answers. It's a tough job, but someone's gotta do it!


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Richard Auffrey said...

There is a problem because there are actually different types of "organic" in the U.S., and some other countries don't have legal definitions of "organic."

For example, the wine listed here states it was "made with organically grown grapes." But that does not mean the wine making process was organic as well. It could have been manipulated in the winery.

I know plenty of producers, especially European ones, who generally are organic, but are not certified as such. The cost and efforts of certification are not worth it to them. But they truly care about their wine.

Their wines are generally excellent. Though I have not done any tests/comparisons, to exactly determine the differences of organic vs regular wine. I just know I really enjoy the wines made by some organic producers. Unofficially, I think it might be a better way, revealing the true character of the grapes.

The Wine Whore said...

I was afraid that would be the case...

The whole organic classification becomes very tricky without investigating each winery and carefully understanding how they use this title. You also bring up a great point about wineries that use the same techniques but don't spend for the certification.

My belief is that certified or not, we should always research how the things (wine included) that we put into our bodies are created. That way, at least we are aware of what we choose to drink and eat each day. That doesn't mean that I wouldn't drink a non-organic bottle of wine or even eat a Big Mac, but it DOES mean that I may not do it excessively if I believe there is some sort of risk in doing so.


The Wine Whore said...

The following article which explains the types of organic wine was sent to me:


Some great info there but still some question on how it affects taste.

Hampers said...

Thanks for sharing the information on classification of wine. love organic wine. It was nice going through your blog.

The Wine Whore said...

Thank you Hampers!

I think organic wine is very important but still just trying to sort out where the title is being used to help move bottles versus where the practices are actually being upheld.


Anonymous said...

Here's what makes X's Zinfandel unique:
The area where we grow is relatively cool which allows for longer hang time and more even ripening. In addition, the vines are, for the most part (there is overhead frost perfection), dry farmed (no irrigation). The combination of these two leads to a Zinfandel of balance with raspberry and deep blueberry flavor without the jamminess and high alcohol that is sometimes found in warmer environments.
Hope this help and thanks again for the support!
X Team

The Wine Whore said...

Thank you for stopping by and shedding some additional light on the background behind this particular bottle of wine.


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