Why I Switched to Organic Wine (& How to Buy Organic Wine)

by Ann Marie Michaels on October 25, 2012

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Why I Switched to Organic Wine

I love wine. For me, it’s one of life’s great pleasures, right up there with raw milk cheese. But I recently switched to organic wine.

In this article, I’ll explain why I switched to organic wine, and how to read labels when buying organic wine.

I’ve also created a How to Buy Organic Wine infographic that you can use to decode the wine labels.

Why I Switched to Organic Wine

“A bottle of conventionally produced wine may contain up to 250 different types of chemicals,” according to EcoVine Wine, a Santa Barbara-based wine club specializing in organic wines.

As my readers know, I’m very conscientious about what I eat. I go out of my way to buy organic fruits and vegetables, and I always buy organic for crops that are sprayed heavily, such as coffee and peanut butter.

Recently, I started exclusively buying organic wine. I drink wine pretty much every night with dinner, and I don’t want to be swilling pesticides.

Since grapes are one of the Dirty Dozen (the top 12 foods with the most pesticide residue), I won’t buy non-organic grapes. So why would I buy non-organic wine?

I guess I was just too lazy/busy to think about it before. But since there is so much evidence that these pesticides sprayed on our food are carcinogenic, I’d rather avoid them. I’d like to skip breast cancer, thank you very much!

Dirty Dozen - Top 12 Foods with Highest Pesticide Residue

Wine Is Contaminated with Pesticide Residue

Unless you’re drinking organic wine or wine made with organic grapes, you’re likely ingesting pesticides. And it’s not just in America that they are spraying. Pesticide use is increasing around the world.

Study Found European Wines Contaminated with Pesticide Residue

“Pesticide Action Network Europe, together with NGOs from Austria, France and Germany, has uncovered substantial evidence that wines on sale in the European Union may contain residues of a large number of pesticides. The announcement follows an NGO investigation of 40 bottles of wine purchased inside the EU – including wines made by world famous vineyards.

100% of conventional wines included in the analysis were found to contain pesticides, with one bottle containing 10 different pesticides. On average each wine sample contained over four pesticides. The analysis revealed 24 different pesticide contaminants, including five classified as being carcinogenic, mutagenic, reprotoxic or endocrine disrupting by the European Union.” (Source: Pesticide Action Network Europe)

Pesticides Are Harmful to Winemakers, Too

Some sources (like the Chinese government) say that pesticide residue on wine is not substantial enough to cause health problems. I don’t buy that, because of the volume of other non-organic foods we eat on a daily basis. It’s cumulative.

That said, when I buy organic, I do so not just for my own health, but for the health of the food producers and the health of the planet. Why would I want to buy food that is making the food producers sick? Or that is poisoning our earth’s soil and water?

French Winegrower Dies of Leukemia

“A French winegrower, who died after contracting leukemia becoming the first farmer to have his illness officially linked to the pesticides he used for years on his crops, has spoken from beyond the grave giving a warning to the industry.

He is among 40 or so farmers in France whose illnesses have now been officially linked to their profession and the pesticides they have sprayed on the land by the French agricultural public health body.” (Source: The Telegraph)

How to Read Organic Wine Labels

It’s important to read the labels of the wine you buy. Here’s what to look for:

“100% Organic” – Made from 100% organically grown ingredients. The wine also was monitored throughout its entire production process. The bottle bears the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic seal (the certifying agency must be listed). No sulfites are added, though it can contain naturally occurring sulfites (or sulfur dioxide, an antimicrobial substance).

“Organic” – 95% organically grown ingredients (the other 5% must not be available organically). On the label, you’ll see the USDA organic symbol. Again the certifying agency must be listed. No sulfites are added, though the wine can contain naturally occurring sulfites.

“Made with Organic Grapes” or “Made with Organic Ingredients” - Wine that contains at least 70% organic ingredients. Sulfites can be added, but it may not beyond 100 parts per million.

“Biodynamic” - Beyond organic. This is wine that is 100% organic, PLUS the grower has gone beyond to try to bring the farming process more closely in tune with nature. The concept of biodynamic farming originated from the early 20th-century Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner.

What About Organic Wine Outside the United States?

For wines outside of the U.S., look for the words “Vin Biologique” or “Organic Wine”.

How to Buy Organic Wine Infographic

I created this “How to Buy Organic Wine” infographic to help you shop for wine.

How to Buy Organic Wine

Is It Necessary to Avoid Sulfites in Wine?

There’s a lot of controversy about sulfites. Some sources say that sulfite allergy is not real: You Are Not Allergic to Sulfites.

Personally, I don’t think it’s necessary to avoid sulfites. If you want to buy organic wine with no added sulfites, and you can readily find it, by all means, do so. But if you can’t find “organic wine” and can only find “wine made with organic grapes,” I think the latter is just fine.

I personally have no problem with sulfites in wine, so I don’t look for “organic wine” — I just buy “wine made with organic grapes”. Although I have recently found an excellent and very affordable source of biodynamic white table wine at Trader Joe’s, which is what I now drink most nights.

Look for My Upcoming Post: Organic Wine Tour in Santa Barbara

Want to know the organic and biodynamic wines I drink? A couple of weeks ago, I took a weekend trip to Santa Barbara wine country to tour some organic wineries.

Needless to say, I was very impressed with what I found — I joined five organic wine clubs.

Look for that post coming soon.

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Do You Drink Organic Wine?

Share your comments below. Do you go out of your way to purchase organic wine?

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Nicolle October 26, 2012 at 5:36 AM

Do you have reasonable online places you could share. We don’t have a tj.

Reply

cheeseslave October 26, 2012 at 2:29 PM

Hi, Nicolle

I don’t know of any — I’ve never researched it since I live in CA and we have access to so many local organic wines.

Try googling buy organic wine online (or something along those lines)

Also be warned — many states don’t allow shipping of wine

Reply

Amber Jackson October 26, 2012 at 6:40 AM

We are so lucky there a few local organic wineries where I live with excellent quality and inexpensive wines and meads, which is actually my new favorite. I love honey maple mead, mmmm so delicious!!

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cheeseslave October 26, 2012 at 2:30 PM

Yum! I really want to try mead.

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Mari October 26, 2012 at 7:44 AM

Trader Joe’s Growers Reserve Zinfandel is made with organically grown zinfandel grapes. The bottle says certified organic by California Certified Organic Farmers.

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cheeseslave October 26, 2012 at 2:37 PM

Yes they have a number of organic wines under the Trader Joe’s label.

Here’s the biodynamic wine I get at TJ’s: http://www.ceago.com/Dynamic-Vineyards.html

Reply

Vickie October 26, 2012 at 8:07 AM

Here in St. Charles, MO I have found a wine that is sold in the Schnucks stores called “Bon Terra”. It is an organic wine that sells for about $20 a bottle but can often be found on sale for $13. That’s a great price for a bottle of good organic wine!

Reply

Lovelyn October 26, 2012 at 12:59 PM

Great tips. I don’t buy organic wine, but have sometimes wondered if I should. It makes sense to start. Thanks again. I’ll definitely be sharing your infographic.

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Alison October 26, 2012 at 1:12 PM

Do you have a reference for pesticides being linked to pertussis? That would be fascinating…..

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cheeseslave October 26, 2012 at 1:45 PM

I’m working on a post about that.

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Margo Watson October 26, 2012 at 1:14 PM

I switched to organic wine about a year ago. Two of my favorites are Bonterra and Frey.

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Brandy @ Afterthoughts October 26, 2012 at 4:12 PM

I think it is a bit of a myth that organic wine is pesticide free. I mean, yes, there are certain pesticides that are not approved for organic farming. But there are also over 20 pesticides that *are* approved for organic farming. Organic farming is still usually conventional in its methods, it’s just that the pesticides originate from natural sources and then are lightly processed before use, rather than synthesized in a lab.

I go back and forth on wine/grapes, and I’ll tell you why…A friend of mine’s grandfather has farmed grapes (for wine) up in Napa somewhere for his entire life. About 10 years ago, he went organic because he knew that was the way the market was going and he wanted to get in on it. Please don’t misunderstand me–he had the reputation of being a fabulous farmer, and he loved his grapes. Conventional farmers get a bad rap about that in my opinion–my grandfather was a farmer his entire life, and very conventional in style, but he lived for the land and taught my father to love it, too.

Anyhow, what my friend noticed was that when she visited her grandfather after he went organic, they were ALWAYS spraying, no matter when she was there (we live in the Central Valley, so it isn’t like she was there all the time). Anyhow, when she finally asked him about it, it seems that whereas the pesticides for his conventional growing were very effective and only needed to be sprayed once or twice per season, the organic method required him to spray almost continuously.

I’m sure this varies from farmer to farmer, just as it would be different if he were biodynamic, etc. But when I buy organic grapes, I am just as careful as I am with conventional as far as soaking them in vinegar water before allowing the children to eat them and so on. It is likely that organic wines–if not labeled pesticide free–have 5 to 20 times more pesticides sprayed on them than non-organic wines. I’m not quite a believer that organic grapes are superior in terms of purity, as a general rule…I’d have to visit the farm before I decided what I thought. Actual practice is what matters in this area, and I’m just not seeing it among the average organic farmer…

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Katie October 26, 2012 at 5:22 PM

I just learned this myself…..you might want to take a look…..

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jUzq1ez3dnc&list=UU-vVe95wqLRtThfAgm-SL7w&index=10&feature=plcp

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Peggy Hartzell October 27, 2012 at 5:06 PM

I totally agree with your philosophy. It’s also about the growers. Forty years ago we stopped eating grapes from South America not only for the health of ourselves and our children, but for that of the growers. Dow was sending chemicals banned in the US for use there. It’s a matter of good health(karma) for all of us. PA State Store are hardly interested. Only the occasional organic wine except for Frey and Natura.

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Bebe October 28, 2012 at 2:19 PM

I have switched to organic wine too, because I was getting headaches! I thought it was just red wine at first and the sulfites but then I had a reaction to a white wine too. Big bummer because I really love my glass of wine each night too, although I drink mine while preparing dinner rather that with dinner. It’s my happy ritual that also makes me want to get in the kitchen at an hour when I might rather be relaxing. Some people call it the “witching hour”, others “barracuda hour” (because it seems everybody wants a piece of you!). My glass of wine makes it happy hour for me!
The one organic red I’ve found that is consistently good and never gives me a headache is Our Daily Red… and it’s cheap! Only $9 a bottle here in Alaska and available at Fred Meyer AND Carrs (owned by Safeway) I just got a bottle of Frey Vineyard’s Syrah to try. Although my experience with Frey wines has been less than pleasurable in the past I am always optimistic, holding out hope for improvement.
Thanks for yet another stimulating post Ann Marie.

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Ruth October 29, 2012 at 3:51 AM

this is where get our wine from in Australia:

http://www.wildfoxwines.com/Home.aspx

their wines are divine….

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J.L. November 4, 2012 at 2:45 PM

So, I have an allergy to oak and possibly sulfites. Does anyone know of an organic wine that:
1) has no added sulfites/sulfite-free
2) does not come into contact with oak wood at any point in time
3) does not use wheat/gluten as a fining agent (i.e. gluten free)

I know it’s a lot to ask, but I’m having a tough time locating this needle in a haystack ;)

Reply

Laurent November 30, 2012 at 8:02 AM

Blime. I have never acquired the taste for wine but drink quite a bit of grape juice for its content in minerals, and once read that organic was not necessary for grape as they were seldom sprayed of all the crops. Guess that was misinformed.

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Jenifer March 13, 2013 at 5:21 AM

I like Yellow+Blue wines quite a bit. They are also a great value, running around $12-15 for a 1-liter carton.

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