What is Organic Wine?
That’s a question people have been asking for a little over one hundred years. In it’s broadest sense, organic wines aim to eliminate the use of synthetic chemicals. But between the rise of the natural wine movement and disparities across certifying bodies it’s probably easier to say that organic wine is its own can of worms– its elusive definition has the habit of squirming just beyond our collective reach. Part of the difficulty is that you can’t have a conversation about organics without also talking about what is ‘natural’. And what exactly is ‘natural’ can mean many different things to many different people.
One thing for certain, though, is that organics is a conversation in full swing. There are a few general principles that many of us can agree upon. We know that organics in wine is a fundamental step in sustainability, as well as biodynamic farming. We also know that it is an intention. It’s a way for the industry to hold itself accountable for the ecosystems it relies on and become purposeful, rather than passive, stewards. We know that healthy relationships with land, plant, animal and people are all reason enough to adopt practices that maintain that well-being, however different that might look across the world.
We also know that when we’re talking about organics in wine it is essential to distinguish growing grapes from winemaking. The growing of organic grapes, or viticulture, has a unique set of organic standards that might not be resumed during winemaking (or ‘viniculture’). In essence, a winemaker could easily use organically grown grapes but not employ organic winemaking practices. There are many formidable reasons why that might be their decision, which we’ll dive into later. The two distinct phases of organic production are one of the reasons it can be a challenge to call a wine decidedly ‘organic’ or not.
Taking these nuances to heart, organic wines are produced all over the world. There are numerous certifications available worldwide and a proud number of producers who make organic wines, certification not withstanding. We have laws and labeling that acknowledge its unquestionable value, and entire wine programs curated solely to the organic. And while it might be in its youth, perhaps the reason it’s nearly impossible to pin down an exact definition of organics in wine is that it’s very much still a conversation in progress.