Image via @TheJuneMotel
Sustainable, organic, green—these are all terms we’ve come to expect from almost all of our marketing language these days whether its beauty, fashion or food. So it makes sense that as our lives get more and more focused on good-for-me and good-for-the-environment choices, we apply that ethos to wine as well. But while I’m a fan of wine, I find a lot of the language surrounding it can be difficult to interpret, and I’m not just talking about tannins, body and mouth-feel. When it comes to wine, what does organic mean? Is green a term that’s applied to both colour and process? And is natural the same thing as organic? I decided to chat with regenerative development manager of Bonterra Organic Vineyards Elizabeth Drake to find out more about organic wine.
It turns our natural, sustainable and organic don’t all mean the same thing and it’s important to know the differences as they can help you decide which wines to choose.
Organic: If a wine is labeled organic it generally means that the wine is produced from organic grapes—but it doesn’t necessarily take into account whether the winemaking process is also organic. Often in the process, the grapes are subject to chemical manipulation.
Sustainable: “Sustainable generally encompasses both the farming and business practices behind a wine,” says Drake. “Meaning the wines are farmed with an eye to earth-friendly practices and the business is run in a way that is responsible to the environment and people.”
Natural: This term is broad and often used interchangeably with other terms on this list. “Natural wine is a new category, generally referring to wines farmed organically, then treated very minimally in the winery,” says Drake. But since the definition is used in many different ways, it’s a good idea to read up on the practices of the vineyard or wine company.
Sulfite-free: Another term you might hear more of sulfite-free, but it’s a bit of a misnomer. “Sulfite-free wines claim to contain no of very few sulfites, although it’s probably more accurate to characterize these are low-sulfite rather than sulfite-free wines, as sulfites are natural preservatives found in nature,” says Drake.
Why You Should Care About Organic Wine
“Every time you buy something that is verifiably good for the world, you help nudge the economy—and widespread farming and business practices—in that direction,” says Drake. The reason why you would buy organic or sustainable wine is the same reason you would opt for organic vegetables or sustainable clothing companies—because you care about preserving our environment and you want to put your money where your mouth is.
But What About Taste?
The good news is, you won’t sacrifice on taste if you opt for natural or organic wines. “Personally, I’ve always felt better selecting organic wine, since I know that these offer purity of flavour and a brilliant sense of place—what wine fans call terrior—thanks to farming that allows the land and vines to really shine, without harmful additions and inputs,” says Drake.
How To Shop For and Enjoy Organic Wine
Your best bet when shopping is to read labels and become familiar with wineries that support sustainable and organic winemaking and practices. At a store level, labels are your best bet, and luckily points of purchase (like the LBCO) are more and more using signage to call out natural options. But, the truth is you want to look for certification to really ensure you’re purchases are legitimate. “Ultimately, third-party certification is the only way to be totally sure that what you’re getting is what’s promised,” says Drake. When out at a restaurant, don’t underestimate the value of a sommelier or your server. As organic and sustainable wines become more popular, more and more dinner spots will be up to date on what their own menus offer in this area.
This pick for rosé-loving folks is a great patio pick. It’s dry and medium-bodied and it comes from the biodynamic Southbrook Vineyards in the Niagara Peninsula.
This California full-bodies red also happens to be super smooth and fairly dry making it a perfect pick for sipping with appetizers or enjoying steak or heartier vegetarian fare like mushroom-based dishes.
Yes, you can enjoy a little sparkling with a sustainable edge. Niagara-based Cave Spring is Sustainable Winemaking Ontario Certified and this fruity and crisp Brut goes great with seafood.
(Story by Contributing Editor, Alexandra Donaldson)