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Frequently Asked Questions

 

Answers

What is The Organic Wine Company?

The Organic Wine Company was started in 1980 by Veronique Raskin.

Our mission is to share our passion for high quality, organic wine with those who enjoy wine. We source the finest handcrafted organic and biodynamic wines from small family owned vineyards and ship them direct to you at affordable prices.

We work with winemakers from around the world to offer you a wide range of organic and low or no sulfite added wine to complement the organic food on your table.

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What is organic wine?

Organic wine is wine that is made with organically grown grapes. It is as simple as that.

Essentially, organic wine is wine made in the way that our ancestors made it before World War II when pesticides became widely used. Today, modern research on organic growing has made it possible to produce both high yields and high quality without putting toxic substances on to the vines or into the soil and water.

When you drink organic wine, you are drinking wine that is free of pesticide and chemical residues, and you are voting with your dollars to support wine that has been grown in a way that actually enhances the health of the environment.

Did you know?

  • Grapes are one of crops that receive the heaviest application of pesticides – millions of tons are sprayed on grape vines each year.
  • Wine grapes receive even higher levels of pesticides than table grapes
  • Many organic wines are grown using something called integrated pest management, which is planting companion plants that attract beneficial insects to naturally reduce the populations of insects that will damage grapes.
  • Drinking organic wine reduces your exposure to harmful chemicals, reduces the impact of pesticide use on the people who grow the grapes (workers face much more exposure to harmful chemicals) reduces the threat to groundwater contamination and helps to promote biodiversity.

With all that going for it, wouldn’t you choose organic wine?

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Conventional vs organic viticulture, why do we care?

Wines grown in the conventional manner use a mixture of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The health and environmental impacts from the application of pesticides are both pernicious and wide ranging.

Did you know?

  • Industrial agriculture uses 70% of the planet’s fresh water. According to EPA, U.S. agriculture contributes to nearly 75% of all water-quality problems in the nation’s rivers and streams.
  • Our food supply is more susceptible to shocks than ever before because we have disassembled our grain reserves, let bankers into the business of betting on commodity crops and put small-scale farmers around the world out of business.
  • The current food system is responsible for 1/3 of global greenhouse gas emissions; it is also fully dependent on oil both for transport and because pesticides and fertilizers are petrochemically-derived.
  • Industrial agriculture is the largest single threat to biodiversity, and 7 in 10 biologists believe that today’s biodiversity collapse poses an even greater threat to humanity than climate change. Bees, bats, amphibians and other beneficial species are dying off, and their declines are linked to pesticide exposure.
  • While farmworkers and their families, rural communities and children are on the “frontlines” of industrial agriculture, we all carry pesticides in our bodies. Pesticide exposure undermines public health by increasing risks of cancer, autoimmune disease (e.g. diabetes, lupus, rhuematoid arthritis, asthma), non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Parkinson’s disease and more.

The above information was obtained from the Pesticide Action Network

At The Organic Wine Company, we believe that restoring the health and vitality of our ecosystems is essential to our survival as a species. We can’t single-handedly save every ecosystem, but we can do our part to support the ancient and honorable practice of winemaking through supporting small, family run vineyards, who are committed to organic growing; and who make delicious wines free of the toxic residues found in wine made from sprayed grapes.

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Is drinking wine made with conventional grapes safe?

This is actually a trick question. The focus on the individual is misdirected. The real question is one of the effects of pesticides on the entire ecosystem. Farm workers who apply pesticides are often not properly protected from harm and end up suffering from respiratory and neurological illnesses as Dr. Andrew Weil points out in answering the question of “Should you drink organic wine?”: “In May 2012, the French government officially recognized a link between pesticides and Parkinson’s disease in agricultural workers.”

The evidence of the harm that pesticides cause to land, water, crops, birds, bees, amphibians and mammals is voluminous and growing with each passing year (see our response to the question “Conventional vs organic viticulture, why do we care?” (Link) Fortunately, more and more people are waking up and questioning the “conventional” wisdom of applying massive amounts of poison to our fruits and vegetables and recognizing the damaging and far reaching effects that this has on people, animals and plants.

Did you know?

Conventionally grown grapes are one of The Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” – produce that has the highest content of pesticide residues? Unfortunately, wine grapes receive more pesticides than table grapes. According to the USDA Pesticide Data Program there are up to 34 different kinds of pesticide residues found on conventionally grown grapes. Of these:

  • 4 are known or probable carcinogens
  • 17 are suspected hormone disrupters
  • 10 are neurotoxins
  • 6 are developmental or reproductive toxins
  • 14 are implicated in the deaths of honeybees

If you are concerned about the health, societal or environmental effects of industrial agriculture, then we encourage you to learn more about organic agriculture and viticulture and to vote with your dollars by buying organic foods and wines.

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Don’t we need pesticides to ensure healthy grapes?

Well the pesticide manufacturers would certainly like you to believe that! Actually, this is one of eight myths that are deconstructed by the Pesticide Action Network.

Pesticide use in the USA has grown by a factor of ten since World War II – during the same period crop losses doubled. That’s not exactly the kind of track record that inspires confidence in conventional agriculture’s ability to feed a growing population.

It is possible to grow healthier grapes with per acre yields on par or even surpassing that of chemical intensive viticulture methods using organic methods.

Did you know?

Pesticide use is linked to:

  • Contaminated groundwater
  • Honeybee die offs (a huge problem for agriculture)
  • Loss of biodiversity
  • Greenhouse gas emissions

And perhaps the worst of all is “the circle of poison”, where a country such as the USA, bans the use of pesticides that are proven to have harmful effects within its borders; but allows their manufacture and export to countries where those chemicals are not banned. Then the fruits or vegetables grown with those pesticides are imported back into the USA where unsuspecting consumers buy them – it’s craziness!

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Where can I learn more about the effects of industrial agriculture and food safety?

There are numerous websites and organizations that are dedicated to educating the public about both the dangers and the alternatives to industrial agriculture. There are three we think everyone should know about:

Did you know?

Sustainable farming methods help to reduce global climate change by

  • Reducing greenhouse emissions
  • Promoting biodiversity
  • Creating carbon sinks

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Should I be concerned about sulfites?

According to the FDA, sulfites are not teratogenic, mutagenic or carcinogenic – which means that they do not cause cancer or birth defects. Unless you are allergic to sulfites, you need not worry about the health effects of sulfites. The FDA estimates that 1 person out of 100 shows sensitivity to sulfites. So the chances are good that you are not among this select group. If you are, we do offer a great selection of low or no sulfite added wines.

There is a great deal of confusion about sulfites and we won’t attempt to cover every aspect of them here, but here a few points are worth knowing:

Sulfites come from sulfur – a naturally occurring substance. When sulfur mixes with oxygen, it becomes sulfite (S02). Sulfur is a great cleansing and antibacterial agent that has been added to wines for centuries. It helps to stop oxidation and bacteria growth that will ruin a wine. Modern winemaking techniques have made it possible to minimize bacteria growth, but we have yet find a better way to prevent oxidation, especially in white wines, than adding sulfites.

Did you know?

  • Sulfites exist in our bodies naturally – they are not a cause for alarm.
  • The fermentation process of making wine creates sulfites.
  • Wine makers add sulfites to keep the wine stable.
  • Sulfites are not toxic, carcinogenic, or dangerous in the small quantities such as those found in wine.
  • Only about 1% of the total population is allergic to sulfites.

If you do have concerns about sulfites, we carry a great selection of low and no sulfite added wines.

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Will drinking wine containing sulfites give me a headache?

Professor Andrew Waterhouse is the Chair of the Department of Enology and Viticulture at UC Davis, and is widely respected authority on wine and sulfites. The following is excerpted from his website:

  • There is no medical research data showing that sulfites cause headaches! There is something in red wine that causes headaches, but the cause has not yet been discovered. To avoid these common headaches, try drinking less wine, and drink with food. It is certainly possible that sulfites cause headaches, but there is no data available.
  • All wines contain sulfites. Yeast naturally produce sulfites during fermentation so there is only a rare wine which contains none.
  • The medical literature has virtually no reports on sulfites inducing headache. There are many studies of sulfites and asthmatic responses, and a few of these address sulfites in wine. A few studies from Australia shows that even with extremely sensitive people, there is only an asthmatic response in a small number of sensitive subjects (4 out of 24) for a single drink (150 ml) at extremely high sulfite levels-300 mg/liter or 45 mg. No effects were seen at lower levels, such as 150 mg/liter, or with several increasing doses up to 750 mg/liter!
  • The US requires a “sulfite” warning label and Australia requires a label indicating “preservative 220,” but nearly all winemakers add sulfites, including those in France, Italy, Spain, Australia, Chile, etc. So, the wine you drink in foreign countries contains sulfites, but you just are not being warned about it when purchased abroad. Survey studies show that European wines contain an average of 80 mg/L sulfites just as in the US.
  • There are a few (very few) winemakers who make wines without adding sulfites. In the US, organic wine must be made without added sulfites. These are unusual because the wine is very perishable and often have unusual aromas from the aldehydes that are normally bound and rendered aroma-less by the sulftes. Look for these wines at natural food stores. (Our selection of NSA wines does not suffer from these unusual aromas.) Link

Did you know?

  • Dried apricots, grape juice, bottled lemon juice and molasses are all high in sulfites.
  • The sulfite levels in wine average 80 mg/liter, or about 10 mg in a typical glass of wine.
  • Two ounces of dried apricots contain roughly ten times the amount of sulfites in a glass of wine
  • White wines typically have slightly higher amounts of sulfites than red wine.
  • White wines without sulfites generally have a shelf life of around six months.
  • Sulfite-free red wines have a longer shelf life of about 18 months – the tannins act as a preservative.

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What are vegan wines?

If you are a vegan, you want to be drinking wines that are made with certified organic grapes and processed without the use of any animal derived products such as egg whites. We have a great selection of vegan wines that meets those standards.

Did you know?

  • Most wines are “fined” which means that proteins and yeast are filtered out of the wine.
  • Many commonly used fining agents are animal derived products such as egg whites and gelatins.
  • Fining agents are placed on top of the vat and they gather particles as they sink carrying them out of the suspension.
  • Vegan wines that are fined most often use bentonite clay as the fining agent. Some use a ceramic process and others special paper filters.
  • No fining agents remain in the wine after the fining process.
  • Not all wines are fined.

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How does the shelf life of organic wine compare to conventional wine?

Very favorably! We recently did a vertical tasting here and our organic wines from the 1980s had aged well and were absolutely delicious. Of course, as with all wine, proper storage is required to preserve the life of the wine.

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What about the taste?

Well the old saying is that “There is no accounting for taste.” We will boldly assert that organic wines taste at least as good, if not better, than wines made with conventionally grown grapes. Granted, there are many delicious wines made with conventional grapes, but we prefer to drink the best tasting organic wines we can find.

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I know “organic” in the grocery store usually means higher prices, is that true of organic wines also?

Interestingly no. Organic wines can be found at many different price points that are very competitive with wines of the same quality that are grown using conventional grapes.

It is possible to enjoy wonderful organically grown wines without spending a fortune in the process. We offer a wide selection of great wines for under $15.00.

Did you know?

  • We carry over 70 wines that are under $20.00.
  • When you buy organic wine, you are voting with your dollars for a healthier future for everyone.

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I am on a raw diet, is it okay to drink wine?

Absolutely. The fermentation process does not “cook” the wine. Many raw food enthusiasts prefer red wine to white wine. Red wine is less acidic and easier on your system. And of course, if you are an a raw diet you will want to be sure that any wine that you drink is organic.

Did you know?

  • Many popularizers of raw food say organic wine (in moderation) does not violate the raw diet principles.
  • Pure Food and Wine, an upscale raw restaurant in New York City features numerous organic wines on their list.
  • Beer and distilled spirits are not raw – their production process heats them above 118ºF.

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What should I look for when buying an organic wine?

Certification process and certifying agencies

There are two main things to look for. The first is to scan for the words “Made with organically grown grapes.” The second is to look for the seal of a certifying agency.

“Made with organically grown grapes” is likely to be written in different ways. We have wines that are labeled:

  • Made from grapes grown without chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Only natural plant and mineral substances are used to nourish and protect the vines.
  • Our guarantee: Our vineyards receive no pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers, allowing for the full expression of the natural character of our grapes.
  • Wine made with organically grown grapes.
  • This wine is made from vineyards farmed without chemical treatments or fertilizers.

You will see other variations on this theme depending upon the vineyard.

As for the second, there are several different organic certifying agencies. Among the largest and best known are the USDA and ECOCERT. ECOCERT was founded in France, and has grown to be one of the largest organic certifying agencies in the world; conducting inspections in over 80 countries.

Did you know?

  • ECOCERT is responsible for inspecting about 70% of organic goods produced in France.
  • ECOCERT inspects about 30% of the organic good produced worldwide.
  • Other reliable organic inspectors include: CCOF, The Global Organic Alliance and Oregon Tilth.
  • French wines will often sport a logo of AB “Agriculture Biologique” this is another certifying agency.

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Are wines labeled “eco-friendly”, “green”, “sustainably farmed” or “natural” the same as organic?

Sadly, no. Due to the costs involved in certifying a vineyard (or farm) as organic, several other labels are springing up and creating confusion. Where organic laws exist, producers cannot legally use the term organic unless they have been certified as organic. To work around that requirement, alternative labels are showing up in the marketplace.

At this time the terms “eco-friendly”, “green”, “natural” or “sustainably farmed” have little to no legal standards backing them up. The wine may be free of pesticides and fertilizers, but since no certifying organization exists to test the wine or certify the vineyard, there is no way of knowing if the wine you are drinking is what it claims to be.

If you want to ensure that the wine you are drinking is organic, it must say “organic” on the label and have some kind of certifying agency’s seal to prove it meets the legal standards in place.

Did you know?

  • To qualify as organic, a vineyard must follow strict protocols including record-keeping, inspections, paying a fee and ensuring that suppliers are likewise working on an organic basis.
  • Organic certifying agencies often require short notice inspections and soil samples.
  • To become a certified organic grower, the soil must be free of pesticide use for at least three years.

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Where do your wines come from?

Both the Old World and the New. We carry wines from Austria, France, Italy, Spain and Portugal, as well as Argentina, Chile, New Zealand and the USA.

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What does “terroir” mean?

Terroir is a French word that roughly translates as: a sense of place.

Wikipedia defines Terroir as referring to “the set of special characteristics that the geography, geology and climate of a certain place, interacting with the plant’s genetics, express in agricultural products such as wine, coffee, chocolate, tomatoes, heritage wheat, and tea.”

The concept of terroir is at the base of the French wine Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) system that has been the model for appellation and wine laws across the globe.

Did you know?

  • The concept of terroir dates back to the ancient Greeks who observed that the same grapes would produce different tasting wines when grown in different regions.
  • For most of its history, Burgundy was cultivated by Benedictine and Cistercian monks who greatly refined the concept of terroir.
  • Terroir is expressed in the taste of the wine and can be influenced by factors such as pruning, irrigation and harvesting times.

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