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organic wine: better in any way?

Last updated 4 years ago

I just read an article by Miles Edlmann in World of Fine Wine about wines made from organic grapes. This is a topic I think and talk about quite a bit, and the article inspired me to write out some of my own thoughts, for which I will borrow some of Edlmannâ??s information. I want to start out by saying that I am very much interested in doing whatâ??s best for my own body and for the environment. I eat almost entirely organic produce and buy organic whenever possible with almost everything else. Knowing that, it might surprise you to learn that I drink almost no wine that is made from certified organic grapes and absolutely no wine that is considered in this country to be â??organic wineâ??. Iâ??d like to briefly outline my reasoning for choosing to buy and drink the way I do. There are two primary reasons. First, an organic certification does nothing to ensure farming practices that are better for the land than another approach. Second, that certification does nothing to ensure that the wine is any better (or less bad, depending on how you view that one) for the health of the consumer. Nothing. You might find that difficult to believe, so here are a few quick facts to back it up. The most commonly used antifungal treatment for certified organic vines, and really the only â??organicâ?? option available to combat downy mildew, is copper sulfate. Copper sulfate is EXTREMELY toxic to animals and to the environment. Edlmann mentions in his article that a single dose of 300 ppm (parts per million) killed 50% of rats in a lab study, and that â??[t]oxic effects have been reported in humans at levels as low as 11 ppm.â?? Furthermore, copper sulfate does not readily degrade in the environment, and itâ??s highly water soluble. It runs off very easily if thereâ??s rain soon after application, and if not, it bonds to particles in the soil and builds up year after year. What does that mean for the environment? Well, the runoff can be bad â??since a concentration of less than 1mg per liter will kill 50 percent of exposed fish within 48 hours.â?? (Edlmann) Copper, a heavy metal, is also excellent at killing microorganisms, which happens in water systems as well as in the vineyards themselves, where in France, copper levels at 10 times the maximum limit for US farms have been discovered. Even that maximum limit for US vineyards is going to ensure that those extremely important microorganisms have been wiped out. As far as the human toxicity that I mentioned, downy mildew can easily ruin an entire crop, and copper sulfate can be applied directly to the grapes as late as one week before harvest in those certified organic vineyards. I know that gets a bit technical and focuses on a single treatment, but the use of that treatment is extremely widespread in certified organic vineyards, being used by every one of them out of necessity in some regions. I think all of that illustrates the point that the health of the vineyard and that of the consumer is largely dependent on how much the grower and winemaker care about those things in organic or â??conventionalâ?? scenarios, and that the growerâ??s options can be limited to exclusively harmful compounds if they are to rightfully maintain their organic certification. The relevance of all of this information is that producers using organic certifications as a marketing tool donâ??t necessarily have anyoneâ??s best interest in mind besides that of their own bank accounts. I would argue that such is the case with most producers using organic certifications as a marketing tool. And guess what? If they have it on the label, theyâ??re using it as a marketing tool. There are a lot of producers out there who farm organically but havenâ??t paid for the expensive certification because they do it that way out of true caring rather than monetary incentive. The famed Domaine Huet and Francois Chidaine in the Loire Valley are great examples. There are others, such as the prestigious Chateau Margaux, who farm almost entirely organically but donâ??t want to get certified so that they can keep their options open and use the best treatment available at any given time. Chateau Margaux sells for about $1000 per bottle, and they certainly spare no expense when it comes to making the best wine possible, as well as being extremely concerned with the ongoing health of their vineyard land. On the other hand, youâ??ve got one of the largest producers of certified organic wine in this country blatantly lying to their customers. (see my earlier blog post on sulfites at Knowing that company intentionally spreads falsehoods to promote their brand, I donâ??t trust them at all to care about environmental sustainability or the health of their customers. Our Daily Red even lies about what organic viticulture is on their website, saying â??[n]o pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, synthetic fertiliziers [sic] or chemicals are allowed on the vines or in the soil,â?? when herbicides and fungicides are definitely allowed and used as long as they qualify as â??organicâ??. I think this one producer, responsible for several brands, illustrates the point that there isnâ??t a lot of transparency or even honesty being used to sell these massive organic wine brands. For â??organic wineâ?? in the US, growers can spray loads of sulfur on the vines, sometimes leaving residue in the juice, but sulfur canâ??t be used in making the wine. If you can figure that one out, let me know. I donâ??t think there is a rational explanation. I donâ??t know who is to blame for regulations that donâ??t make sense, but itâ??s another example of the smoke and mirrors involved in marketing these wines. I have a severe intolerance for companies intentionally deceiving their customer base, but even before I knew about these instances, I had a simple philosophy when it came to choosing wine. I wanted it to taste good and be well valued. If it was made with organically grown grapes, I saw that as a little bit of a bonus, but certainly not a deciding factor unless all other factors were equal. At that time and now, I havenâ??t seen many wines that say â??organicâ?? on the label and taste really good for their price and category. There are a few, but most times, I choose to drink something else for the same money that I think is significantly better. When it comes to my health and the health of the land, specific details are needed to make informed decisions, and those details can be difficult, if not impossible, to find. Generalization can lead to false conclusions in many situations, but what I generally find is that smaller producers and higher quality producers are usually the ones that are putting a lot of caring into how they treat their land and what goes into the bottle. So, Iâ??ll happily drink wine from my favorite producers, relatively small and producing high quality wine, and trust them to make the decisions which they think are best.

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