Picture this. You’re in the grocery store. In one hand, you hold a conventionally grown head of lettuce. In the other hand, you have an organically grown head of lettuce. Do you choose organic or conventionally grown? How do you choose, and why do you make that choice? What is the difference?
Do you think about these differences when you’re in a liquor store buying wine? To me, wine is food. Grapes become grape juice which becomes fermented grape juice or wine. It’s kind of like sauerkraut you might buy at the grocery store. Cabbage becomes fermented cabbage or sauerkraut. Just like food, grapes used to make wine can be grown conventionally or organically.
Considering climate change and it's impacts, it is important to me to make sustainable choices as often as I can. Personally, I like to buy sustainably made wine because I think about how good it is for my body, the planet, and the people who grow the grapes and make the wine.
So, how do I identify sustainable wine?
When searching for an organic wine, there are a few different labels to look for: USDA organic or European Union organic, Demeter, and different sustainability certifications.
There is a USDA organic certification label (pictured below). Sometimes wines are made with organic grapes, but they do not follow the other guidelines of the organic certification in the winemaking process. In those cases, they cannot put the USDA label on the wine, but they can say “made with organic grapes.” The European Union has its own organic wine label with different requirements than the USDA certification. The label looks like a leaf made out of stars (pictured below).
There is also a Demeter biodynamic certification label. Similar to organic wine, there are guidelines for biodynamic wine as well. Biodynamic wine is farmed and vinified in harmony with the cosmos. There is another category often discussed, natural wine. At the moment, there is no certification for natural wine. Most commonly, people refer to natural wine as wine that has “nothing given or taken away” from the wine. In practice, this means the winegrowers and makers practice organic or biodynamic farming and have low to minimal intervention in the cellar.
Lastly, there are different sustainability certifications created by third party certifying organizations. There are many of these, and they all have different regulations. The best thing to do in situations when you see these labels is to look up the organization's criteria for certification in order to learn what those labels mean.
Of course, there are many wines made organically or biodynamically that are not certified as such. For a variety of reasons, winegrowers and makers decide not to go through the rigorous certification process. In those cases where a wine is not labeled as organic or biodynamic, it is easier to ask someone at the liquor store for help or look up producers you are interested in to decide for yourself.
So the next time you’re in a liquor store, don’t be afraid to ask questions about your wine in
the same way you do your food. You might be surprised that there are a lot of wines that are organic, biodynamic, and so forth. And, you can find them in Northern Minnesota! We have a great selection of these wines both in liquor stores and restaurants.
There is so much to say about sustainably made wine, this article just skims the surface. If you have any questions, feel free to direct message me on Instagram at @duluthwinegirl. You’ll also find information on wine classes, tastings, and specific bottles you can find in Northern Minnesota on my page.
Madison Sabol is a wine and spirits representative with Bourget Imports. She's an outdoor enthusiast with a penchant for gardening and also worked as a brewer for Wild State Cider right here in Duluth!