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Celebrate Organic Harvest Month

Since 1992, the Organic Trade Association has chosen September as the month to honor organic agriculture.  Serendipity Wines will be featuring some of our favorite organic wine producers while harvest is in full swing.  We invite you to explore the stories behind these preeminent winemakers and their wines as we celebrate all things organic all month long!

Lunaria – Sparkling Pinot Grigio Pet Nat Ancestral

Frey – “Sun & Rain” Organic Chardonnay

ZeroPuro – Landae Pinot Grigio

Maysara – ‘3 Degrees’ Pinot Noir

Casa Emma – Chianti Classico DOCG

Viticcio – Bolgheri DOC

Featured Organic Harvest Brands

bareksten
Casa Emma
Lunaria
Marchesi

What is Organic Wine

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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 labelling 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.

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Organics: A Short History

Prior to World War I, conversations about organic wines did not exist.  Organic farming practices were the nameless, sweeping global default.  The world experienced a good 8,000 years of organic winemaking before industrialization and an effort to solve food shortages altered modern agriculture altogether. During World War I and then beyond, mechanized, synthetic tools transformed global farming.

What exactly are synthetic compounds?  They’re inorganic pesticides, fungicides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers.  All tools used to efficiently protect crops and yields, including wine grapes, the introduction of synthetics was an unquestionable solution to the devastation brought on by both world wars.  A landmark period called the ‘Green Revolution’ stretched from the 1950’s until the late 1960’s.  This is when agriculture, in a jarring but effective deviation, focused on volume above all else.  A technology driven attitude resulted in the expansive use of agrochemicals (DDT, Roundup), higher yielding seed varieties (which is not ideal for quality grape growing), and precipitated the eventual adoption of GMO’s.

The Green Revolution was celebrated in its time for saving over a billion people from starvation.  Today, hindsight and research reveal the cost of practices that exceeded their window of need.  Sadly, the use of agrochemicals has been linked to cancer, degenerative disorders and other debilitating medical conditions.  Out of sight from consumers, the repeated exposure to toxic sprays put people who were the least visible at the most risk— farmworkers.  Despite some progress, the ability to provide healthy work environments for marginalized farmworkers remains an urgent issue to date.

Organics is not a fad

A deliberate movement towards organic practices cropped up in the 1940’s.  Scientists Sir Albert Howard, Walter James, and J.I. Rodale are credited with launching the movement.  They triumphed the limitation or flat out prohibition of those synthetic pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers.  They focused on building up farming ecosystems— ones that strengthened plant immunity, improved soils and had long-term minimal impact on indigenous flora and fauna.  By shifting away from quantity, they were able to encourage quality and health.  And not just the health of their bounty, but the well-being and safety of farmworkers. 

In America, popular demand for organically farmed foods blossomed in the seventies.  Farming communities in California rallied to advocate for federal regulation in an effort to improve the industry as a whole.  One of the first groups to assemble was the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) in 1980.  The non-profit coalition began developing a definition for ‘organics’ and eventually would become a certifying body.  As a result of their work, the USDA created the National Organics Program and federal legislation took effect.  A homogenized definition of organics moved standards away from regional to national criteria and organic certification became available in the U.S.  For reasons we’ll touch on later, the EU would not adopt a regulatory certification until 2012.

Enthusiasm for more organics in wine has been leisurely, with results that have been a challenge to track.  Certifications vary by country and then, sometimes too, fluctuate within individual certifying bodies.  The general trend has been a steady increase in organic wines as their desirability has also been on the rise.  Prolific wine writer and biodynamic consultant Monty Walden estimated that in 1999 less than 1% of the world’s vineyards were certified organic, as opposed to his current estimation of 5-7%.  Sounds like a long way to go, right?  You might be happy to know this small but fierce category is gaining momentum.

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