(There’s a lot to unpack there.)
It’s the topic this month for the #WinePW writers and it got me thinking. I support sustainability and lean toward biodynamic wines in my writing. How does what I’m actually drinking line up?
At our house, media samples arrive fairly regularly and in addition, there are wines I purchase when I am covering topics. How many of these wines are certified organic?
This month #WinePW tackles organic wines, led by Gwendolyn Alley of Wine Predator (check out her invitation post here). You can find my colleagues’ posts at the bottom of this page.
We will gather on Twitter on Saturday at 8 am Pacific time (11 am Eastern) to discuss “Organic Wines”. If you’d like to join the conversation, just use and follow the hashtag #WinePW.
*Note that some of the wines recommended in this piece were sent to me as media samples. All opinions remain my own.
(I’m going to dive into some of the geeky details about the different levels of certification next. If you just want to find some recommendations for organic wines and pairings, scroll down)
Levels of Sustainable Practices
Let’s begin with the basic levels of certified growing and winemaking methods. In simple terms, you have sustainable, organic, biodynamic, and regenerative.
You will note that “clean” is not listed there. It is not a wine term, but if you find a wine that calls itself “clean” it may (and should) fall under at least one of these categories.
“Low intervention” and “Natural” are also terms that can be a bit vague but have more street cred. Natural Wines in Europe are starting to get organized and set definitions. But I digress. Let’s break it down to some basic levels, listed in order of intensity of certification.
This includes certifications like LIVE, Salmon-Safe, SIP certified, Lodi Rules…and that’s just the United States. Australia, New Zealand, Chile, South Africa, & Argentina either have or are working on countrywide programs to increase the sustainability of their vineyards and land.
But what does that really mean? Each of these programs have their own focus. Salmon-Safe deals with keeping the land, streams, and rivers free from vineyard runoff that could contaminate and pollute the waters. LIVE is based on low input viticulture to protect the land, SIP Certified looks at a sustainability plan that builds economic viability as well as protecting the environment and builds in social equity.
New Zealand has taken this a step further through Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand (SWNZ)which was established in 1995. They have 7 areas that they focus on: Water, Waste, pest & disease, climate change, people, and soil. Today 96% of New Zealand’s vineyards are certified.
My husband hates this term. To him, it’s stealing a scientific term. I mean, in our universe things are organic or inorganic. These are compounds that either contain carbon or do not.
I often hear winemakers speak of organic as the list of things you can’t do. It comes down to chemicals that you cannot use in growing your grapes and in making your wine. Keep in mind also that these are separate certifications. You may see “made with organic grapes” on a label where only the vineyard is certified. Organic Wine is when both the grapes and the wine-making process are certified organic, restricting the use of chemicals and additives in the winery. Typically this is about the use of sulfites in the wine, which is not allowed if labeled organic wine. Mind you sulfites in a low amount occur naturally in the winemaking process, so this doesn’t mean the wines are sulfite-free, just that they have no added sulfites.
This is a deciding factor for many winemakers about Organic Certification. Sulfur is the best natural preservative for wine and wines bottled without it can have a much shorter shelf life.
The USDA is the certifying body in the United States for Organic Agriculture (so farms and vineyards…vineyards are farms after all)
That “Made with Organic Grapes” label? That avoids this. You can be organic in the vineyard and can still have up to 100 ppm of sulfites in the finished wine. (If a wine has more than 10 ppm of sulfites, it must be labeled “contains sulfites”).
These wines can be made with agricultural ingredients and yeast that are not organic, but, they cannot be genetically engineered. If it’s a non-ag ingredient it has to be on a special “approved” list. You can find more details on this here.
In 2012 the EU set Organic standards and a wine with this certification indicates that the grapes and additives are organic and there are no GMOs or other prohibited ingredients. They limit sulfites to 100 ppm for red wines and 150 ppm for white and rosé wines.
Universally this is thought of as Demeter Certification. It applies the biodynamic principles put together by Rudolf Steiner and fleshed out by Maria Thun and … Some of this can seem mystical. People like to talk about the buried cow horns filled with manure and tending the vineyard by the cycles of the moon. More practical practitioners of biodynamics find the science behind the methods that have been common sense farming for generations. The natural preparations aid in the diversity and health of the microbial life in the soil and assist the vines in protecting themselves and thriving.
The whole farm concept applies here, looking at the vineyard and surrounding property as a diverse ecosystem that makes it healthy.
In many cases, vineyards that are certified biodynamic will also be certified organic. Another thing to note s that, like organic certifications, biodynamic certifications can be for the vineyard or the winery.
In Europe Biodyvin (Sydicat International des Vignerons en Culture Bio-Dynamique) is the group formed in 1995 for winegrowers in France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland, and Spain. The group has the independent body “Ecocert SAS France” do inspections and report to the Union.
Regenerative Organic Certified:
This new movement has lofty goals of saving the planet. Their motto is “Farm like the world depends on it.”
So much of the carbon released into the atmosphere comes from tilling soils. Large swaths of the planet are ripped up annually (or more often) to replant crops, releasing major amounts of carbon. Regenerative promotes a “no-till” farming philosophy. If you are curious and want to learn more about this, I recommend the film “Kiss the Ground”, or visit the Regenerative Organic site.
I have been lucky enough to speak with the General Managers of the first 2 regenerative vineyards in the world! Jason Haas of Tablas Creek and Craig Camp of Troon. While carbon sequestration and soil health are key, they tie in two other important pillars, animal welfare, and social fairness. This certification is new, established in 2017, but word is growing and I hope to see more vineyards and wineries, seek this certification.
Okay, but this post is about “Organic” wines. Finding numbers on Organic vineyards and wineries took me on a deep dive. I found a piece from early 2017 that listed organic vineyards as estimated at 5% of total vineyard acreage worldwide. At the time within California, only 2.4% of vineyards were certified organic. I have to think (hope) that those percentages have increased as we all become a little more enlightened. (source)
In the United States currently organic wine accounts for 3.6% of total wine consumption, and the sector has seen significant growth in 2018 and 2019. From 2019-2020 Organic wine saw annual growth of over 20%, which was higher than the growth of conventional wine. (Source)
So what did I find in my personal tastings?
Of the pieces I have written in the past year, at least half of them mention sustainability in regards to the wine. Better than the average, but not as good as I would wish.
I have found that you often need to dig deep to find out about the certifications, as not everyone puts the logos on their bottles or advertises their level of sustainability. I remember Rod Windrim at Krinklewood in New South Wales Australia, where they farm biodynamically, telling me
“we don’t want to rave about organics too much. To me it’s like telling someone you’re honest. The moment someone tells me they’re honest, hmmmm. We feel a little bit the same way about organic and biodynamic and also getting caught in sort of the thing I hate this “I’m more organic than you and I’m more biodynamic than you and all that.”
Rod Windrim, October 2019
Really, the best method is getting to know the people behind the bottle of wine. We all do farm to table more and more. Time to do a little “Dirt to Glass”.
Some of my recent favorite organic wines and pairings!
*Some of these wines were received as media samples. All opinions are our own.
Kind of Wild
Kind of Wild sent me some samples of their wines to try. Adam and Jordan Sager of Winesellers, Ltd, launched this brand with wines sourced from organic and regenerative growers around the globe!
We paired their 2020 Syrah-Grenache Rose from the Pays d’Heurault with a hike into the wild! (with fresh strawberries, a watermelon salad, and simple ham and cheese croissant sandwiches. But truly, the wine paired best with the views.
Getting Kind of Wild with some simple Backyard Grilling
The 2 other wines they sent us were their 2020 Sauvignon Blanc from Valle de Lolol Chile in the Colchagua region, and the 2020 Malbec-Cabernet Sauvignon from Mendoza Argentina. These paired with a backyard BBQ with an edible cheese plate (yes you can eat the plate), marinated grilled flank steak, grilled garlic shrimp, and a slaw of broccoli, purple cabbage, and grapes!
Back in the Spring, we received a bottle of Bonterra 2020 Organic Sauvignon Blanc. This is a California Sauvignon Blanc made from Organically Grown Grapes. And it will only set you back about $14!
Bonterra has been around since 1987, they have always been organic and they also incorporate some biodynamic principles. They are Zero Waste & Carbon Neutral and they are a Certified B Corp!
Earth friendly Sauvignon Blancs for Spring
We paired this bright and fresh Sav Blanc with fried chicken, purple cabbage, and tzatziki slaw and a springy version of baked beans with northern white beans with onion, shallot, summer squash, and tomatoes.
Utopia Vineyard in the Ribbon Ridge AVA of Oregon
Utopia Vineyard in Oregon’s Ribbon Ridge AVA is dry-farmed organically. Dan Warnshuis the winemaker and owner is also the President of the Ribbon Ridge Winegrowers Association and has rallied all the growers there to sign a pledge to go herbicide-free. Eventually, the plan is to have all the vineyards in the AVA farmed organically or biodynamically.
We paired their 2017 Estate Chardonnay (sent to us as a Media sample) with an aromatic salad and warm cozy pork chops with apples. These recipes were amazing, and you will find recipe cards in the post.
Utopia 2017 Estate Chardonnay with an aromatic salad and warm cozy pork chops with apples
We also paired their 2017 Pinot Noir with Lavender Earl Grey Tea Smoked Tuna with Roasted Gold Beets and Rosemary. (Does that sound amazing? It plates fancy, but it was not that difficult to put together. The recipe card is in the post and you should try it!)
Utopia 2017 Pinot Noir with Tea-smoked Tun and Roast Beets with an aromatic plating
More pairings for Organic Wines!
Really we have done so many glorious pairings with Organic wines this year. Here are a few more links to whet your appetite!
A Baby Vin Jaune 15 generations in the making
A Côtes du Jura 2012 Savagnin from Domaine Jean-Bourdy paired with mushroom and chicken risotto.
Banish me to Mantua, with a glass of Lambrusco Mantovano
2 Lambruscos from Bugno Martino in Mantovano, paired with Riso alla Pilota (a local dish of rice and sausage) and a homemade pizza with sage and fig jam.
Savoring Premier Cru Chablis as we hope for good news for the 2021 Chablis vintage
We paired a Jean-Marc Brocard 2018 Chablis Premier Cru Vau de Vey with Seared Scallops on butternut apple cider puree with a fennel apple salad
A pairing of Tablas Creek 2014 Roussanne with carrot, leek, and potato soup, and crostini of fresh ricotta and thyme with roasted golden beets and candied bacon.
Youngberg Hill – Reminiscing and Making New Memories with 2 Youngberg Hill Pinot Noirs.
The 2017 Youngberg Hill Cuvée Pinot Noir & 2016 Youngberg Hill Natasha Pinot Noir paired with baked Rainbow trout and a rainbow root vegetable gratin
I really could go on and on…but, let’s suffice to say there are beautiful organic (and biodynamic) wines out there and you should find them! Support these vineyards and wineries who are doing there best to make the planet better!
My Colleagues at Wine Pairing Weekend have each discovered other Organic wines and created their own pairings! Read on, find these wines and make a difference in the world, just by opening a bottle (or another sustainable package) of wine!
- Camilla Mann suggests “Sustainably Sourced Seafood + Organic Wines: Rock Crab Claw Crêpes with Bonterra’s 2020 Chardonnay” on Culinary Adventures with Camilla
- Wendy Klik is “Drinking and Dining Sustainably and Organically” on A Day in the Life on the Farm
- Terri Oliver Steffes sees “Slow Wines and Organic Farming with Lettuce Grow” at Our Good Life
- Nicole Ruiz Hudson presents a “Chardonnay and Chicken Showdown: Chile vs. California” on www.sommstable.com
- David Crowley offers an “Organic Wine Pairing with Veggie Burgers” on Cooking Chat
- Linda Whipple suggests “Vegan black bean burgers and organic wine: a planet-conscious pairing” on My Full Wine Glass
- Cynthia and Pierre Ly present “Mystery organic wine “Le Vendangeur Masqué” with crêpes dinner and economics” on Traveling Wine Profs
- Jennifer Gentile Martin considers “Organic Wines with Pasta and Shrimp” on Vino Travels
- Pinny Tam goes with “Organic White Wines: Bonterra Chardonnay, Cono Sur Chardonnay & Sauvignon Blanc Paired With Asian Vegan Dishes” on Chinese Food and Wine Pairings
- Martin Redmond presents “Sustainable Chardonnay and Pinot Noir Paired with White Pizza” on Enofylz.
- On Wine Predator, Sue Hill and Gwendolyn Alley have “AmByth’s Natural Wines, Biodynamic Farming for the Future”
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.
Wow Robin, a very comprehensive look at many different organic wines and a great lesson on the different levels available.
There are so many certification programs out there in different countries and regions, it’s hard to keep track of them all! I just hit the tip of the iceberg. It is good that so many are looking to find ways to be more and more sustainable! It’s a subject dear to my heart as I know it is for you also!
Fantastic overview Robin! We’ve been digging into this topic for the last little while and as you say a LOT to unpack/digest. Despite the climate change report and scary predictions if we don’t act, it heartens me to see how much the wine industry is doing and striving to continuously improve. Let’s hope all industries jump on board before it’s too late…
I really see regenerative agriculture and “no till” as being a potential game changer. If more people would jump on board with that, we could really make a dent in the damage. It is encouraging to see so many working sustainably, including larger brands!
The wine industry has come a long way since Cono Sur, Bonterra and Fetzer were a few of the only sustainably minded producers. Great status report! Your pairings look amazing, too.
Thanks Linda. It shows that large companies doing the right thing informs consumers and really can drive change in the industry!
All of these certifications can be confusing! And imagine my surprise when I friends suggested I start another one! Great over view and explanations plus a selection of lovely wines and pairings.
Thank you, Gwendolyn! Thanks for the inspiration and for leading us this month!
Great overview of these labels, Robin. Indeed, it’s confusing for consumers to see different labels, all with different standards and meanings, but somehow trying to convey the same idea. Even more confusing with fair trade A vs B, direct trade, shade grown etc.
It is confusing! I’ll admit that I don’t know the differences between many of them. Now you’ve inspired me to research the fair trade certifications, which is something I’m not as familiar with!
Excellent job explaining these categories with beautiful pairings to go with it! Also, love the phrase “Dirt to glass.”
Thanks, Nicole. I love that phrase too, it reminds me that wine is an agricultural product. Sometimes I think that when it gets in the bottle, people forget that it originally came from a farm.
A great overview of a sustainable landscape Robin. I’m digging your bottles and pairings too! Well done!
Thanks so much Martin!
Such a great overview of what it means to be organic and what great pairings!