What Does It Mean if Wine Is Organic?
Organic wine is becoming more and more popular today, and you may be wondering what it means when a wine is “organic”. We’ll cover just that in this blog post!
What does it mean if a wine is organic?
Put simply, organic wine is wine that’s made in accordance with organic winemaking standards. These standards are law in the EU and UK, covering everything from pesticide use in the vineyard, how vineyard land is managed, as well as which additives are used when the wine is made. These organic wine rules were first put in place in 2012 in the UK and Europe.
Always be careful and look for certification to know whether a wine is organic (all of the wines we sell are).
Let’s break things down further to help explain what it means if a wine is organic.
What does it mean if a wine is organic: Pesticide use
One of the biggest differences between organic and non-organic wine is the use of pesticides in the vineyard. If you don’t know, pesticides are synthetic chemicals designed to kill insects and other pests (insecticides), fungal diseases (fungicides) and weeds (herbicides). They’ve become very common in modern-day farming, and have unfortunately found their way into our food, soils, and waterways.
According to the UK’s Soil Association, of the 300 or so pesticides permitted under EU law, just 20 pesticides are permitted under organic standards, all of which derive from natural ingredients. Rather than use synthetic pesticides, organic vineyards will use methods like biological control, using cover cropping between vines and natural remedies to help maintain and improve soil health. All of this is done to have healthy organic grapes that result in wines with better flavours, aromas and terroir.
As the Soil Association points out, organic farms and vineyards can be havens for wildlife, and have up to 50% more wildlife than non-organic farms. So using more natural pesticides isn’t just better for the grapes, it’s also better for other wildlife too!
By choosing to drink organic wine, you’re supporting a viticulture system that’s more natural and better for the environment.
What does it mean if a wine is organic: Winemaking and additives
Under organic regulations, only certain additives of natural origin are allowed. Potentially dangerous and synthetic additives aren’t allowed or are restricted. Things like colouring agents and flavouring agents like malic acid aren’t allowed. To find out more about additives in organic versus non-organic winemaking, see this document about organic wine from IFOAM. In addition, various techniques used for conventional winemaking aren’t allowed either. This includes things like the elimination of sulphur dioxide by physical processes, nano or ultra-filtration, and heat treatments above 70°C, among others.
What about sulphites in wine?
Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) is the most widely used and controversial additive in winemaking. It’s used as an antiseptic to kill off unwanted bacteria, yeasts and moulds, and as an antioxidant to inhibit oxygen from spoiling the wine. An increasing number of people are sensitive or have allergic reactions to sulphur (headaches, wheeziness, a more groggy morning after feeling), and want to avoid it or ingest as little as possible. The good news is that organic wines have lower set levels generally, and we categorise our wines as having ‘LS’ (Low Sulphur’) and ‘NS’ (No Sulphur Added) wines, giving you the choice. Look out for these LS and NS symbols on our website.
How do we define Low Sulphur? From the low initial ‘organic status’ level, we’ve taken wines that are made with only 50% of that or less to be in this category. Our “No Sulphur” / “No Sulphur Added” wines are the wines with the lowest sulphur levels you will find anywhere. None at all is added, though tiny amounts can be produced as a natural by-product of the fermentation process.
What does it mean if a wine is organic: Soil health
When talking about organic wine we should probably talk about soil health. Organic grape production depends first and foremost on the soil: balanced nutrition influences the fruit composition, which in turn influences the winemaking process.
Organic winegrowers and makers pay great attention to soil health, knowing that it’s very important for healthy grapes and the best possible wine. How do they do this? They use a variety of natural methods to improve soil health and fertility, including:
- Farmyard composts consisting of animal manure or plant matter
- Minerals from natural sources, such as rock phosphate or potash
- Plant by-products such as wood chips, composted bark, wood ash and straw
- Seaweed and algal preparations
Soils are the source of nutrients for the vines and grapes. Healthier, biodiverse soils are simply better for vine health — and ultimately result in better quality wine too!
Always be careful and look for certification!
One of the biggest threats to the organic wine industry and winemakers working hard to make clean organic wines is wines being labelled as organic when they are in fact not. This can happen on restaurant and bar menus, or in shops when retailers print their own labels saying a wine is organic when it hasn’t been certified. Just be careful, and to be sure you need to look out for certification. If a wine is certified, it will have either the EU organic logo, or one from another certifying body in the UK, such as the Soil Association logo, which is the largest certifying body in the UK. Don’t be fooled, and ask questions if you aren’t sure.
The benefits of organic wine
For us there are many, but we often sum it up like this:
- ENVIRONMENT: No harmful pesticides or synthetic chemicals are used to make organic wine. This better for our soils, waterways, the air we breath and vineyard workers too.
- HEALTH: Organic wine is made to cleaner standards. This means you can worry less about pesticide residues, additives and often less sulphites
- TASTE: Healthy organic grapes have balanced sugars, acids and tannins. It’s why organic wines have excellent flavours and aromas and are a true expression of terroir.
- PEOPLE: Choosing organic wines supports the organic movement and creates healthier jobs for winemakers, farmers and people who live and work in the countryside.
- PROCESS: Certified organic wine is made using a verifiable process with inspections. Remember to look out for the organic symbols/logos to know whether a wine is organic or not.
Recommended organic wines
New to organic wines? All of our wines are indeed 100% organic. Here are some we’d recommend starting out with. You can also get £5 off your first order of £60 or more by signing up here.
Our Most Popular Organics Mixed Case is a great introduction to the quality of organic winemaking today.
Similarly, our Organic Everyday Mixed Case has six reliable top sellers – three organic reds and three organic whites.
If you’re looking for a good selection of no sulphur added wines specifically, you might enjoy our No Sulphur Added Six Mixed Case, which has six flavour-packed no sulphur added reds.
If you’re a white wine lover, you’d likely enjoy our No Sulphur Added Whites Six mixed case.
For more information about organic wines, also see our other blog posts:
- Why Drink Organic Wine? Six Reasons to Drink Organic Wine
- Complete Guide to Organic Wine
- Organic vs Biodynamic vs Natural Wine