Bottle clusterBy Natalie MacLean

Who makes organic wine?

The number of wineries making organic wines is increasing steadily, with the result that they’re available in a far greater range of styles than ever before.

Formerly, they were only the domain of small producers, but now large companies are taking an interest as a way to diversify their offerings and to improve their environmental images.

Some of the producers implement some organic principles and not others, some grow organic grapes but don’t make organic wine and still others make both organic and non-organic wines. So check the labels carefully.

Why don’t more organic wineries promote the fact on their labels?

In a word, perception. Rightly, most consumers already think of wine as a natural product, though they’re likely influenced less by knowledge of winemaking and more by those lovely leafy vineyards pictured on labels and in ads. grapes

So although they may seek out organic versions of lettuce, tomatoes or beef, they don’t necessarily think to do so for wine.

Many wineries are cautious about promoting their organic designation. They know that most consumers buy wine based on its taste and quality—the organic part is just a bonus.

Understandably, it’s a point of pride for many winemakers that consumers buy their wines for the “right reason”: taste not ideology.

Organic wines also have an unfortunate history. In the past, they were perceived (often correctly) as being poorly made and prone to going bad quickly because they lacked preservatives.

Another legacy is the reputation for preachiness and moralizing—no one wants to be scolded into virtue, even though today’s consumers are much more aware of the environmental impact of their food and drink.

As well, many vintners are wary of the red tape and cost required to designate themselves organic. They may not want to lock themselves into just one mode of production—especially in the event of a virulent attack of pests or rot, which might require emergency chemical treatment.

In that situation, if an “organic” winery had to remove the designation from its label, it would be in the awkward situation of having to explain why to its consumers. Further, if a winery has several products, and not all are organic, that might reflect badly on the others.

Many of the most coveted wines in France and other European countries are organic without decalring it so, such as the famed Burgundian producer Domaine Romanee-Conti.

vineyard EuropeFor all these complex reasons, only a few organic wines actually make a selling point of the fact and highlight it on the label. Most others hide it on the back of the bottle in small print or don’t mention it at all.

What’s the future of organic wine?

The category is growing at about 20 percent a year, albeit from a small base. Encouragingly, even when winemakers don’t aspire to be fully organic, more and more are still trying to reduce their dependency on chemicals.

That’s good news for wine drinkers because wine is an expression of the place it’s grown. That place shouldn’t be a chemical-ridden wasteland, but rather a place that’s as diverse and nuanced as the wine we drink—and a place we can all live in.

This is Part 5 of a five-part report on organic wine:

Part 1: What is organic wine?

Part 2: The headache over wine and sulfites.

Part 3: Is organic wine healthier for you?

Part 4: Differences between organic, biodynamic and sustainable farming?

Part 5: How to buy the best organic wines?