Green Wine

A world gone right.

A world gone right.

Mike Harper

In response to its customers’ desires and in accordance with Roanoke City’s “go green” policy, Wine Gourmet has, in the past year, dramatically increased the number of organic products it carries and has increased its use of recycled products for packaging. Now Wine Gourmet offers one of the largest organic wine sections in the valley and also stocks organic beers and hard ciders.

Organic wines come in several different stripes. Makers of organic wine may simply use organically grown grapes in production (practicing organic) or offer USDA certified organic products (certified organic) or go a step further with a holistic farming approach that is inherently organic (biodynamic).

A certified organic wine is made with organically grown grapes and is free from unapproved chemicals and pesticides.  Biodynamic wine is produced by a method of organic farming that has a spiritual basis and views the vineyard and its environs as a single organism.  Biodynamic agriculture is a balanced, holistic approach to farming that considers the interrelationship of the soil, plants, and animals a closed, self-nourishing system.  Biodynamic processes seek harmony between the vineyard environment and the production of grapes.

So, let’s talk about sulfites.
A small number of people are sensitive to sulfites and can react adversely to their presence.  While sulfites (which is simply the compound sulfur dioxide [SO2] or one of several other related compounds) occur naturally in wine, extra sulfites are commonly added to finished wine in order to increase its in-bottle stability. White wines especially are susceptible to chemical changes on-the-shelf that can cause the wine to develop off-colors and objectionable odors. This creates a relatively unpleasant wine experience. As you can see from this, there’s really no such thing as a truly “sulfite-free” wine.  To obtain that, you would have to put the wine through a process that would remove the sulfites. According to Professor Roger Boulton, Ph.D., University of California at Davis, Department of Viticulture and Enology, even if no sulfur dioxide is added to wine, fermenting yeasts will produce SO2 from the naturally occurring inorganic sulfates in all grape juices. Thus, says Boulton, it is impossible for any wine to be completely free of sulfur dioxide.

While most enologists acknowledge that the addition of some SO2 is necessary, advances in technology and in our understanding of the processes going on in fermentation have now made it possible for winemakers to achieve their goals of bottle-stable wine with minimal additions. Some winemakers reject this notion and do not add sulfites to their finished wine. These wines are typically marked with the letters “N.S.A.”, which stands for “no sulfites added”. It should be noted, however, that it is not necessary for a wine to be free of sulfite additions to qualify as organic. Both American and European organic winemaking standards allow for the addition of strictly regulated amounts of SO2.  In the U.S., ordinary wines can contain up to 350ppm of sulfites. Organic winemaking standards, as adopted in 2000 by the USDA, limit the use of sulfites to 100ppm in all finished products. However, most organic wines contain less than 40ppm of sulfites.

Sulfite sensitivity is relatively rare.  In sulfite sensitive individuals, the presence of SO2 can cause nausea or diarrhea and precipitate asthma attacks. But sulfites are not limited to wine. In fact, the presence of sulfites ranging from 6 to 6000 ppm is found in products such as fruit juices, dried fruits, fruit concentrates, syrups, sugar, jams, gelatins, cake toppings, shellfish, baked goods, pizza dough, frozen and dehydrated potatoes, processed vegetables, cheeses, as well as in many prescription drugs. Headaches, which are frequently, unfairly blamed on sulfites, are not a typical symptom of sulfite sensitivity.  If you can consume the products in the list without a headache resulting, then it is very unlikely that sulfites are to blame.

That some people get headaches from the consumption of wine is undeniable.  But most folks who do get headaches point the finger more strongly at red wine than at white wine.  White wines tend to have more sulfites than red as they are more susceptible to off-colors, etc.  So, again, if you’re looking at sulfites as a headache cause, the likelihood of them being to blame is small.

Vineyards that choose to create organic products without going through the certification process use organic grapes may still add sulfites to increase the longevity of the wine. Wine Gourmet offers both certified organic wines and practicing organic wines from vineyards that only use organic grapes for production. Organic wine producers believe organic wine to be better for both the environment and the consumer. We can’t argue otherwise and, because many of you are asking for organic wines, we want to have them on our shelves.

In addition to an abundant selection of organic products, Wine Gourmet reduces the shop’s impact on the environment by recycling boxes when consumers purchase 6 or more bottles of wine, also by encouraging the use of eco-bags and by using recycled paper bags for smaller purchases.

Soon, we may even stop wearing shoes.

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Published in: on June 3, 2009 at 2:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

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