While “organic wine” in the U.S. is a minor category, it’s about to become big in Europe. The EU has ruled the exact opposite of the US: that “organic wine” can contain sulfites. The EU will restrict the amount of sulfites they may contain: 100 ppm total for red wine, 150 ppm for white or rosé, as opposed to the 10 ppm allowed (and only when naturally occurring) in U.S. “organic wine.” (Conventional wines in the US are allowed 350 ppm.)
This is a huge difference. In covering this issue, I have spoken to several natural wine producers — leaders in the “green wine” field — who said they might take the steps to be certified organic wine producers if allowed to add 50 ppm of sulfites to protect their wines from bacteriological harm. Wine doesn’t get greener than the Natural Process Alliance, but the NPA adds sulfites. That should tell you something.
Until this week, there has been no such thing as “organic wine” in the EU, only “wine made from organically grown grapes,” a category that also exists here. EU “organic wine” will have restrictions on winemaking — including no addition of sorbic acid — in addition to restrictions on viticulture. European consumers who prefer to drink wine that’s closer to being a natural product, but who don’t want their wine to taste spoiled, will now have the benefit of official certification.
Of course, we won’t see these “organic wine” labels in the US because these wines won’t meet US standards. The USDA, which simply does not understand wine the way the EU does, ruled in December that “organic wine” cannot contain sulfites. This doomed “organic wine” in the US to continue being a tiny niche product for well-meaning, uninformed consumers.
Once people learn something about wine, they move away from the “organic wine” shelf, which more than one retailer told me compares to “kosher wine” as a death knell for sales to anyone other than those who feel the obligation to buy them. This is due to the lousy taste of most US “organic wine,” and that has much to do with the absence of sulfites.*
* (By the way, gentle reader: You are not allergic to sulfites.)
It’s popular on both sides of the aisle in US politics these days to bash European politicians for their foolishness: the right thinks the EU gives too many entitlements; the left thinks the EU is too in love with austerity. It’s hard to say whether the EU has a better or worse grip on fiscal policy than the US.
But the EU does know wine, and that was reflected in this sensible ruling. Bravo, Eurocrats, you got one right.