Telling a kid to eat something because it’s good for them is usually a good way to make sure it never passes their lips.
At the same time, if you suggest trying something that is good for an adult and/or the environment many will assume it must be tasteless or an inferior product.
A January trip to Southern France to the Millesime Bio organic wine trade show proved nothing could be further from the truth. Organic wine is a growing movement stifled by regulation, misunderstanding, and greed.
The story begins in the 1980s when wine labeling laws were enacted in 1987 requiring “sulfites added” be printed on wine labels. The organic wine movement started largely in the early 1980s. The two have been linked ever since. Simply put, there is no relationship.
Sulfites are used in wine to fight bacteria or fungi which can occur in the winery or winemaking process. There are all sorts of old housewife tales and stories about the ills of sulfites in food. But the facts are there are hundreds of packaged foods in your kitchen right now which probably contain sulfites. Wineries have to put a label on the bottle that proclaims sulfites, most products do not.
The profiteering and greed started in the U.S. when some wineries, which had previously worked toward organic standards in the late 1980s and early 90s, realized there was a profit to be made if they insisted organic wine contain no added sulfites. The argument goes that would keep big wineries out of the business.
Wines without added sulfties have a very short shelf life and are often very thin wines. European standards allow mimimum sulfites which makes for better wine that can be aged. By comparison, the U.S. law allows no more than 10 parts per million in sulfites. EU regulations permit 100 ppm. Wines that aren’t organically produce may have up to 350 ppm. So European Union wines must be labeled “made from organic grapes” to be sold in the U.S.
|AIVB President Thierry Julien chatting about organic wines|
French winemakers claim opponents of changing the U.S. standards are merely protecting market. Most aren’t afraid to name specific wineries and individuals. But they have become frustrated and even dismissive in recent years while suggesting consumers should focus on the benefits of wines made organically. Essentially, the definition of organic wines should be wines that have no chemicals added – no pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides, or other chemicals in the winemaking process.
Such practices are better for the farmer, consumers, and for Mother Earth. The concept enjoys more widespread acceptance in Europe than the U.S.
Theirry Julien, president of Southern France’s organic wine growing association, outlines a progression that happens with organic products.
“You start with baby food then you do bread and pasta,” Julien suggested. “The wine comes toward the end. I’m not at all waging war against other wine growers who produce wine traditionally. The truth is organic wine growers have had trouble supplying organic wine to meet demand.”
He also makes an interesting comparison. European consumers think about what is good for their health while U.S. consumers seem more motivated by what’s good for the environment.
The Millesime Bio featured 587 wineries from 13 different countries. I probably tasted close to 300 wines in a five-day period. I don’t think any average consumer would know they were tasting “organic wines.” While there were a few sub-par bottles, I’d say more than 90 percent of the wines were good to outstanding.
Southern France’s Languedoc-Roussillon region is France’s biggest organic region. The red wines are most often blends of Syrah, Grenache, and Carignan. They are tremendous table wines and great values at prices usually at $10-$20 a bottle.
I wrote a more detailed story for Palate Press – The National Online Wine Magazine on organic wines and the fight over the details. Go to palatepress.com and search organic wine or my name to find that story.
Howard’s Picks: Labels to look for include Italy’s Perlage, Domaine Joly (which will soon be available) or check out The Organic Wine Company online for a wide selection of organic wines.
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