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Published on March 30th, 2008 | by Stephanie Evans


The Great Sulfite Debate

Wine is perhaps the only product for which the “made with organic ingredients” label is preferable to the “organic” label.

Wines made with organic grapes contain zero pesticides and are typically grown using sustainable farming techniques.

The use of organic grapes in winemaking isn’t the determining factor for whether or not a wine is organic.  The presence of sulfites is what matters most…Organic Grapes

What are Sulfites?

Many plants, including grapes, produce sulfites to ward off microorganisms such as fungi and bacteria.  Since grapes naturally contain sulfite, no wine label can hold true to the claim “sulfite-free”.

“Organic” wines are those that don’t add extra sulfites to wine.  This can be problematic since sulfites help to preserve wine so it lasts for years and has been added to wine for centuries.  Many wines get better with age, so adding sulfites is a necessary part of wine production.

Sulfites are really only a problem for those who are allergic to them.  If you can eat dried fruit, which contains more concentrated amounts of sulfite than wine, then sulfites in wine shouldn’t pose any threat to your body.

Why Make Wine Without Sulfites?

Greater awareness of the benefits of buying organic has trickled into the wine industry, and many winemakers seek to promote their wine as organic.  Many winemakers do use sustainable, biodynamic farming practices and organic grapes, which are the two standards to look for when purchasing wine.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program sets organic standards to ensure that greenwashing doesn’t occur and that foods labeled “organic” are in fact organic.  Part of the guidelines for calling a food organic is the use of sulfites.  No wine can be labeled “100% organic” because it naturally contains sulfites.

  • Wine, with no added sulfites, can be labeled “organic.”
  • Wine made with 70-95% organic ingredients can be labeled “made with organic ingredients.”

Because savvy wine drinkers know that sulfites are an important element in wine, many winemakers are hesitant to call their wines “organic.”

What to Look for When Buying Wine

  • Buy from wineries that use organic farming techniques.  Wineries such as Frog’s Leap in California and Badger Mountain Vineyard in Washington use organic grapes in their wine.
  • Look for the “made with organic ingredients” label.
  • If you plan to buy “organic” wine, buy wine bottled within the last 1-2 years.
  • Search for “wine” in the EPA’s Green Power Partnership Partner List to see which wineries are investing in renewable technologies to run their operations.

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