Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Why It's Much Easier to Get Organic Ketchup Than Organic Wine

With the Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment Organic Wine Tasting coming up this Friday, here's a little background on organic wine and why it's so rare.

At my local Harris Teeter, I can get an organic version of just about anything. I can get organic ketchup, organic peanut butter, even organic dog treats. But while the store carries hundreds of varieties of wine, not a single one is listed as organic.

Why? As the San Francisco Chronicle recently detailed, it's really hard to make a good bottle of organic wine. And it's near-impossible to make an organic white wine durable enough to last on a grocery store shelf:

The biggest stumbling block, many winemakers agree, is the USDA's prohibition against added sulfites. If you want to call a wine organic, you can't add any sulfur dioxide in processing. Zero, zip, none. And the vast majority of winemakers -- in this country and elsewhere -- will tell you that you can't make a decent bottle of wine without it.

"Sulfites are an antioxidant, and we have not found a replacement for that," says Robert de Leuze, winemaster at ZD Wines in Napa.

For centuries, winemakers have relied on sulfur dioxide to keep white wines from turning brown prematurely and losing their youthful fruit flavors. Red wines contain tannin, a natural preservative, so they need less sulfite protection than whites, but they still need some sulfites to guarantee a reasonable life span.


"It's very technically challenging to make a wine without sulfites," says Katrina Frey, director of sales for Frey Vineyards in Redwood Valley (Mendocino County). "We early on made a commitment that we were going to do it that way. But one can understand why many wineries choose not to."

The winery recommends that customers drink its white wines within a year of their bottling -- a date consumers must call the winery to learn -- and finish any open bottle of white wine within a day. Its red wines last five to eight years, says Frey.
For a list of organic winemakers, check out this About.com article, or visit the Organic Wine Journal.

And to reserve your tickets to Friday's Organic Wine Tasting at the Arlington Arts Center, visit the ACE website!
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