This article is written by Tim Vandergrift, a wine industry consultant. For many years Tim was Technical Services Manager for the company where we get our wine kits. We receive a lot of requests for organic wines and we thought you would be interested in the story behind the difficulty we have in locating any.
If you've become a maker of wine kits in the past few years, you may have noticed something pretty significant in today's environmental climate: there are no 100% organic wine kits! That's probably a big surprise, when you think that you can get an organic version of almost everything else, from tomatoes to toothpaste to drain cleaner. So what's up with the kits?
If you promise not to roll your eyes, I'll tell you the two main reasons you don't find organic wine kits anywhere. One: paperwork. And two: fence posts. And you rolled your eyes anyway, didn't you? Well, it's good exercise, but let me explain in more detail.
First of all, "organic" is defined pretty specifically:
1) The agricultural methods must promote the biological health of the soil;
2) There must be no use of any synthetic fertilizers or pesticides; and
3) The food handling methods must preserve the integrity of the product from field to table.
You'll be even further confused about wine kits when you realize that suppliers of grapes for the kits pretty much meet all three standards. No wine grower worth his or her salt will do anything to jeopardize the health of the soil, given that grapes take years to nurture. No short-term thinking there! And there's mostly no need for synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. The most common thing sprayed on grapes is Bordeaux mixture, which is allowed on organics, and prevents mold.
Nor will a grower let the integrity of the product be sacrificed. If grapes aren't handled properly, they burst and the juice oxidizes: not conducive at all to producing good wine. They'd be out of business very quickly if they skimped here. So what's the problem? What can there possibly be about fence posts that gets in the way of allowing grapes and the wine kits they go into to be certified as organic?
The trellis posts used to hold up the wires that train the grape vines are almost always made of lumber that's been pressure-treated. If there's any obstacle to organic certification, that's it right there. Can something else be used? Certainly - if the grower wants to spend significantly more money to use steel or concrete, and if the wine drinker is willing to pay much higher prices for a bottle or a kit. Some winemakers do this, and environmentally conscious wine drinkers accept the higher prices. But for most, this is a financial equation that simply doesn't work.
The final sticking point is simply the amounts of paperwork required to obtain organic certification. Much of this is probably needed, to guarantee that organically certified products really meet the right standards, and aren't just involved in "greenwashing." But for wine growers and producers, it usually comes down to a choice between spending their lives filling out forms, or spending them growing grapes and making wine. And for most growers, it's just not worth the bureaucracy required to get certified.
So are wine kits certified organic? No they're not. But based on the standards that must be met to produce quality wine - from growing conditions through to handling and processing - good wine kits are as close to organic as you can get without the certificate.