Oenophile on the edge of a breakdown

Organic or non organic?

A Wrath of Grape rant …

Grape is our blogger who loves wine and loves privacy even more. He’s a mucky-muck who works an important job, so that’s why he can’t reveal his identity. But that doesn’t stop him from venting. On the question of organic v. non-organic wine he’s an oenophile on the edge of a breakdown.

Oenophile on the edge of a breakdown

By Grape

You’re en voyage from Yellowbanks to Prisoners (that’s Santa Cruz Island, off Santa Barbara, CA), having a discussion in the general areas of organics and sustainability, with friends who are as crazy about wine, food and boats as you are.  The general drift of the conversation is that you have to have a mentality that veers toward the fascist to adhere with brutal strictness to the ‘laws’ of organics or sustainability.

So, you don’t approve of diesel boating and go for sail power – but what’s your boat constructed from?  GRP?  Well, that’s oil.  Synthetic sails?  Oil.  Aluminum mast – mined, perhaps, by exploited peasants in some Big Man corrupted Third World country.

OK, you’re a vegan – but you own a couple of giant dogs.  Do they eat Brussels Sprouts?

You prefer to buy organic but you’re in the supermarket and the organic displays look truly horrible – old, soft and expensive.  You prefer to buy local but who knows, really, how organic the produce is – and does it matter?  Some fruits and vegetables suck up their chemicals, others don’t. You take your list with you and you figure it out – if, that is, you’re relatively relaxed about the organic/non-organic issue.

Now you try to figure out the story with Organic Wines.

First, you realize there are categories:  ‘Organic’ – the strictest, with its sulfite content restricted to less than 20 part per million.  ‘Made with Organic Grapes’ – the next strictest – which allows some sulfites added. And here you begin to lose yourself – but then you come back to the sulfite question.  It is the sulfites in wine that cause hangovers?

You’re not dim enough to think that the only reason to buy Organic Wine is to drink without a hangover – but what are the reasons, exactly?  And what is the knock against non-organic wines?  After all, wine making is, essentially, an organic process. A natural process. If you age a wine in a whiskey barrel, and it takes on an oak-y, whiskey subtext, is that natural and organic?  Probably.  But how were the barrels sterilized?  And would a stainless steel aging tank be more or less organic?

Many of the factors that make great wines – in any area and at any price – depend on the wine-makers’ knowledge and experience and, perhaps, have very little to do with whether the wine, the grape or the process are organic, partly organic or driven by the highest levels of vini-science. It’s an art much more than a science.

You’re pretty damned sure that if a Barolo by Monsanto hit the market, replete with its undertones of benzyladenine, your own nose – and those of other far more sophisticated oenophiles – would ensure that it was dead on arrival.  No matter how many billions Monsanto had poured into it.

You’re pondering on all these question when you come across the phrase ‘biodynamic wines’ and learn that a whole new tribe of winemakers is not only strictly organic but driven by the influence of the moon and planets.

At which stage you can only throw up your hands and revert to your own instincts: to enjoy your wines for what they are and trust that if someone, somewhere, is adding bicarbonate of soda to increase or decrease some obscure chemical value of which you understand nothing, then at least your own nose and taste buds will steer you right.

If there’s anyone out there who can set us all straight on the wine question – organic or non-organic – please state a view!

Photo Credit:  Organic Wine By Jessica Reeder via Creative Commons License.