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Wrath of the Grapes
Bacchanalia

Is "Organic Wine" Just Another Marketing Ploy?

How many premium wines are organic? What about the terms "sustainable," "organically grown grapes," "integrated pest management" or even "biodynamic"? What do all of these terms mean, and what effect do they have on the wine I drink? The answers to these questions will be surprising to most people.

The truth is that the wine industry has been at the forefront of environmentally conscious agriculture for a very long time.

Many vineyard or estate winery owners live on or very near the property where the grapes are grown. And a great deal of these owners have come to the lifestyle of vineyard/winery owner by investing the fortunes that they have made elsewhere in the business world into an agrarian-based existence. These people were escaping the high stress and noxious life of the cities for their vision of utopia in the country.

It would have been very hard for these vineyard/winery owners to forget what made them successful in the business world - the bottom line. The bottom line on fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides is that they are very expensive to apply and once you are on them it is very difficult to get off the treadmill without making a significant sacrifice.

So, if you are developing a raw piece of land, why start in the first place?

But if there is so much environmentally conscious wine grape growing being done, why haven't we heard anything about it? The answer to that question lies mostly in the fact that there is no standard for what organic wine is.

This might be news to those who have been supporting sustainable agriculture by the purchase of only wine that is "certified organic." The problem with "certified organic" is that there are multiple certifying agencies; each with different standards and, to date, there is no government regulation for the term "organic wine." The USDA has been working on developing standards for organic wine. A preliminary draft has been circulated and input received from the various interested parties.

Most of these parties agree that the USDA standards should be a floor, not a ceiling, for certification. They espouse that their more stringent standards are the only "true" way to protect the public.

What they fail to publicly admit is that in order to receive their certification, wineries have to pay a fee. Organic certification is a business, and some of the standards are set as much for fee generation as to protect the public.

With a USDA standard for the term organic wine, and proper labeling laws enforced by the ATF, wineries would be free to market wine with notation for its organic status, and then further describe what steps that winery has taken beyond the USDA requirements. By avoiding fees to some third party certification company, the wineries could pass the savings on to the consumer.

by Sonny Martin

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Sonny Martin has been in the wine sales community for nearly two decades; this article first appeared as a weekly wine column in the Visalia Times-Delta.)


RELATED LINKS: Clearing up the Confusion About Organic Wine (Organic Consumers Association)


 
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