Photo: Organic wine explained

Wine "Made with organically grown grapes" is not the same as certified organic wine. (Credit: JP Hussey via Flickr)

Which would you pick: a glass of wine or an endangered Burrowing Owl (they're about the same size)?

Sommeliers taste wine seeking notes, aroma, acidity, the appearance "in the glass", the sensations "in the mouth" and the finish. But when I planned my green nuptials over four years ago, I had more on my mind than the dilemma of red or white (and which guests could not be seated next to each other).

In Western Canada, a lot of local wine comes from B.C.'s Okanagan Valley. It's a great vacation spot with beautiful lakes and orchards. It's also home to rare plants and animals of the antelope-brush ecosystem (PDF file) — and a great place to grow grapes!

It's also one of the four most endangered ecosystems in all of Canada.

Over 60 per cent of antelope-brush habitat has been lost to houses, grazing or agriculture. Today only 3,100 hectares remain, and 88 species are either gone or at risk of disappearing. When wine tasting and buying, keep nature in mind.

Subscribe to the Queen of Green digest

"Made with organically grown grapes"

Wines with this label have a minimum of 70 per cent organic grapes, but are not the same as certified organic wines. They're often processed using the same equipment and in the same facility as conventional wine, and may also contain sulphur dioxide.

Certified organic wine

Producers use 100 per cent organic grapes and can't use toxic pesticides, herbicides, or synthetic fertilizers. Instead, they fertilize with compost, compost teas, green manure, and cover crops. They also rely on mechanical weeding, mowing around the vines, mulching, and companion planting. To avoid using insecticides to control cutworms, they let chickens graze under the vines or handpick the worms off leaves. Certified organic wine doesn't use genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or contain sulphites. (Conventional wines use GMO yeast.)

Biodynamic wine

Biodynamic vineyards use natural resources to cultivate grapes without pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, or growth stimulants, and often meet or exceed the standards and regulations for organic-certified farming.

Ask the tough questions

Find out how the vineyard protects, maintains or enhances the surrounding ecosystem. Burrowing Owl Estate Winery, for example, donates proceeds to the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society of B.C., Tinhorn Creek has worked with The Land Conservancy to restore rattlesnake habitat and the South Okanagan-Similkameen Stewardship Program to build snake fences, and Working Horse Winery allows bears to steal a few bunches of grapes here and there.

What are your favourite Earth-friendly wines?

Lindsay Coulter, Queen of Green

August 11, 2011

Read more

Post a comment


Apr 09, 2016
5:28 PM

Check out my blog on why you should invest in organic wine:

Jul 29, 2014
5:04 PM

we noticed in the past last year that suddenly the wines all have “contains sulfites” on their labels. Previously, we at least could differentiate between the organic wines without sulfites ADDED and the other wines that contained sulfites. do you think the lobbyists have managed to impose this new labelling in order to disguise the fact that the wine industry adds sulfites to their wines? This is the only explanation we can figure out and if this is the case it is a terrible injustice to the people who are sulfite sensitive. Not only does it encourage the use of sulfites by other wineries who normally avoided this but it masks the true sulfite free wine labels since all wine contains natural sulfites.

Jan 27, 2012
6:55 PM

I read your article on organic wine with interest. I have devoted the last 10 years of my life to bringing disease resistant grapes to the Canadian wine industry — expressly to reduce the amount of sprays that are REQUIRED to grow VINIFERA grapes. It is disheartening to read so many untruths in your blog. First, Organic Wine may contain up to 100 parts per million of sulphites.

Second, ALL wines contain sulphites as they are a natural part of the fermentation process.

Third, To the best of my knowledge it is not true that non organic wines use GMO yeasts. Yes it is possible they do, but again, to my knowledge there is only one GMO yeast in Canada and there is no commercial availability of that yeast (ML01).

Fourth, I was at one of the most famous biodynamic wineries in New Zealand, Milton Winery. They were busy spraying sulphur as a fungicide to reduce the impact of Powdery Mildew. Which raises a question, what is a fungicide, but that is a long discussion.

Aug 17, 2011
7:47 PM

Why would a science based charity promote biodynamic farming?

I urge any rational scientific person to read up on it and buy something simply labeled ‘organic’ instead.

Aug 15, 2011
1:29 PM

Our favorite organic vineyard is Kalala! — they make a wonderful rose.

The David Suzuki Foundation does not necessarily endorse the comments or views posted within this forum. All contributors acknowledge DSF's right to remove product/service endorsements and refuse publication of comments deemed to be offensive or that contravene our operating principles as a charitable organization. Please note that all comments are pre-moderated. Privacy Policy »