The growing world of organic wine and sustainability

Judith Papesh, Contributor

Organic methods are among the more well-known sustainable practices in familiar product options, from clothing to food.

Organic wines have also gained popularity as people want to know more about where their wine and food originate and that they are made sustainably and environmentally responsible. We are part of that community that supports organic and sustainable practices and search for winemakers who are engaged as well.

What is organic wine?

Organic wine is made from grapes grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. It’s somewhat ironic that organic farming requires more from the winegrower and winemaker, but that “more” is awareness. Organic vineyards answer the need for synthetic chemicals by employing natural products like animal and green manures. Un-mowed vineyard rows help control soil erosion, help with water retention, and build soil structure by reducing compaction. 

Beneficial insects replace pesticides, and in what may be the most evocative method, some vineyards use raptors for rodent control. Imagine some misty autumn morning when a walk in the vineyard is interrupted by the call of a hawk and the flush of feathers overhead, suggesting you are in a different century.

In the United States, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) manages organic wine certification. Getting organic certification is rigorous and time consuming for vineyards, especially those transitioning from non-organic to organic practices. Many vineyards follow organic practices though they may not have the final certification.

In addition to the grapes, every product used in winemaking, including yeasts, must be certified organic. Organic wines have no added chemicals or sulfites, but sulfites occur naturally during fermentation, so this wine is not sulfite-free.

It’s no accident that most organic wines are also often from vineyards farmed sustainably, or even biodynamically, by small-production family wineries using minimal intervention winemaking. This hands-on approach to winemaking yields wines with pure, unmanipulated flavors that express the qualities of the varietal, place, and vintage, important elements of terroir. 

A champion for small-production organic wines

Rising Wines Collective is a champion for sustainable small-production wineries that make organic wines, featuring several from Oregon and California. 

Two Shepherds organic winemaking practicesIf you’d like a window into the wonders of organic wines, we’d like to introduce you to William Allen and Karen Daenen of Two Shepherds in Windsor, California, who say, “We guide our wines, protect them from harm, and don’t intervene.”

The Two Shepherds Way is organic, small–production, sustainable, and minimalist. It uses old vines and unique varietals watched over by miniature donkeys to produce layered and complex Grenache Blanc and a richly aromatic Old Vine Carignan that bursts on the palate with red berries, dried herbs, and spices. 

There is a simplicity in the approach to organic winemaking, and yet they are as different and interesting as their origins and the people who make them.

Learn more:

Why small-production and sustainability go hand-in-hand

Love, care, and attention: The crafting of wine

Get to know terroir

Photo curtesy of Two Shepherds

Chef Image

About Judith Papesh, Contributor

Retired Winemaker, Winemaking Consultant, and Washington State Licensed Geologist. Bourgogne Master Level Certification, French, Italian, and Spanish Wine Scholar Certifications

In the first class to complete Washington State University (WSU) Extension Enology Certification, Judith opened her winery, crafting wines that garnered local and international acclaim before turning her attention to studying and educating about the world's wines. "Winemaking is very much an art as well as a science; it is a consuming passion that drives you during the day, keeps you up at night, and when the wine is right, simply leaves you breathless."