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A guest expert Alice Feiring on … “Why Bother with Organic Wine?”

Want to know more about wine and why and how it’s ranked? Alice Feiring’s “The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization” has been named a New York Times Summer Reading Choice. And Alice has a real love for the organics, so she’s written a primer just for Snoety! Read on …



If you’ve been avoiding organic wine — thinking it’s silly or malarkey — it’s time to rethink your point of view. Made by wonderful winemakers, they can be great. The only trouble is that the world can’t figure out what organic means.

Wines that are grown organically — no synthetic pesticides, weed killers or vineyard fertilizers — and made naturally are among the purest and most expressive. Take the exalted Domaine Romanée Conti? They’ve been organic, meaning no use of chemical pesticide or weedkillers, since the 1980’s. Domaine Leroy? That domaine makes uber-organic wine according to the principles of biodynamics. And you won’t find any aroma or flavor changing additives in those wines at all. Sure, these particular Burgundies are silly expensive but plenty of others exist at affordable prices. Deciding to love them isn’t a problem. Weeding through the terminology and labeling, in order to decide what is organic enough for you, is.

Sustainable, LIVE or Salmon Safe.

A great idea, but those labels just mean fewer chemicals are used in farming.

Wine made from organic grapes (or biodynamic grapes)
Guess what? Not all the grapes have to be from organic vineyards, in fact up to 25% of the grapes can be chemically farmed. And, what’s more, the wine is most probably made conventionally which means that shape and taste-changing chemicals, additives and process can be used.

Organic Wine
Get the difference? One is about the grapes, and one is about the grapes AND the wine.

Here the percentage of organic grapes in the bottle gets close to 100%. But the main difference is that no sulfites are added. The lack of this preservative is what gave organic wine a bad name, as it is difficult to make stable wine without them.

You see, sulfur as a preservative goes back to Roman times when candles were lit inside amphora* prior to pouring the wine into them. Also, sulfites are a natural byproduct of the wine making process. So, what’s the problem? Today, sulfites are mostly a petrochemical derivative and can spark allergies. For this reason, a few winemakers in Europe seek out elemental sulfur.

Amongst those in the States who take the no sulfur risk are Frey, Coturri and Badger Mountain.

Biodynamic Grapes
Same deal as with organic. The grapes are biodynamic, the wine might not be. This is organic farming to the max with a spiritual edge. Think homeopathy for the vines.

Biodynamic Wine
Demeter is the organization that gives their stamp for European as well as U.S. wines. Biodyvin is another label, certifying in Europe. U.S. rules are stricter, but sulfites are allowed. Mostly you can expect a wine free from flavor, texture and aroma changing additives and process, except for the addition of sulfur.

How And Why To Find Them
Try to determine what matters most to you. If it’s organic farming, that’s the easiest. Just flip over the back of the label to see some declaration of certified organic grapes. Personally, I look for something different. The wine inside has to be as natural as the farming. Sulfur is not an issue for me, because most of the wine I drink is bottled at very low doses.

The wines that most thrill? Grown at least organically and made with no trickery. But, without a sticker that says love me I’m organic and made with no additives. How can they be found?

One tip for foreign wine is to look at the back label for the importer.

Amongst those who import wines that are trustworthy; Louis/Dressner, Jenny & Francois, Neal Rosenthal, Kermit Lynch, Jon David Headrick and Chartrand Imports.

For the domestic wine lover the pickings are much slimmer. More people are growing good grapes but going in another direction in the winery. Those who do walk the walk and talk it as well are Frog’s Leap, Grgich Hills, Frey, Coturri and Ambyth Estate in California, Cayuse in Washington State, Resonance Winery, Brick House and Cameron in Oregon, Silver Thread in the Finger Lakes.

HERE’S ALICE’S BOOK and REVIEWS she’s received. You can just click on the book to purchase from Amazon.



The New York Times (Recommended Summer Reading List on Wine: “Good Wine Reading With Mellow Aftertaste)

The New York Times (Book Review)

Organic Wine Journal

LA Times

NY Sun

The Globe and Mail

The Villager


*Amphora — a ceramic vase with two handles and a long neck narrower than the body (source: Wikipedia)

Snoety symbol
Eco Umbrella says: June 10th, 2008 at 1:09 pm

For Foodies who live in the Los Angeles area, please join us for the Summer Premiere of The Green Gourmet Eco Speaker Series.

Date: Thursday, July 24th
Time: Starts at 7pm
Location: LivingHomes – one of the first LEED Platinum Certified Homes in the U.S.

Special Green Gourmet Chef: Discovery Channel’s Chef Nathan Lyon (from A Lyon in the Kitchen)

He will be cooking in the open kitchen while he talks about local and organic produce fresh from the farmers markets, the connection between the foods we eat and healthy living and the environment.

Other special guests include:

* Steve Glenn, CEO of LivingHomes
* Laura Avery, Santa Monica Farmers Market Supervisor and Host of KCRW’s Market Report during the Good Food Program
* Julia Russell, Founder and Director of The Eco Home Network

and many more wonderful and inspiring eco-conscious individuals.

VIP Tickets are currently available online at: http://www.EcoUmbrella.com/green_gourmet_eco_speaker_series

Tickets are limited to help insure an intimate evening of amazing food, organic beverages, wine and good company.

We hope to see you in a few weeks!

Sarah says: June 15th, 2008 at 9:04 am

This was so very helpful! Thank you for walking me through the vagueries of labelling.

My “local foods” group has a potluck once a month, and we have agreed that the one thing we don’t need to be local is our wine–West Virginia is not known for it’s vineyards, and although we produce a few lovely desert wines, we are certainly not a wine enthusiast’s “Almost Heaven.” We do, though, try to buy responsibly-produced wines, and have had many long conversations about how to sort out what these different designations mean.

Again, thanks for clearing this all up for us!


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