Become a fan on Facebook Follow us on Twitter USDA Blog Feed Watch USDA videos on YouTube Subscribe to receive e-mail updates View USDA Photos on Flickr Subscribe to RSS Feeds

Organic 101: Organic Wine

This is the ninth installment of the Organic 101 series that explores different aspects of the USDA organic regulations.

According to a 2011 survey by the Organic Trade Association, organic beverages made up about 12% of total organic food sales growth. Organic wine contributed to that growth, matching pace with conventional wine purchases. So what is organic wine?

As with other USDA organic products, organic wine is made without using prohibited substances or genetic engineering (see Allowed and Prohibited Substances). It undergoes the same rigorous requirements of USDA organic certification as other products throughout its lifecycle (see Five Steps to Organic Certification). And, in addition to being overseen by the USDA National Organic Program, it has to meet the requirements of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, especially for sulfite labeling requirements.

Red wine reflects the light from a restaurant.  Before wine can be sold as organic, both the growing of the grapes and their conversion to wine must be certified.  Photo courtesy Mr. T in DC

Red wine reflects the light from a restaurant. Before wine can be sold as organic, both the growing of the grapes and their conversion to wine must be certified. Photo courtesy Mr. T in DC

Before wine can be sold as organic, both the growing of the grapes and their conversion to wine must be certified. This includes making sure grapes are grown without synthetic fertilizers and in a manner that protects the environment and preserves the soil. Other agricultural ingredients that go into the wine, such as yeast, also have to be certified organic. Any non-agricultural ingredients must be specifically allowed on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (see Allowed and Prohibited Substances) and can’t exceed 5% of the total product. And, while wine naturally produces some sulfur dioxide (sulfites), they can’t be added to organic wine. Sulfites are commonly added to wines to stop the fermentation process or preserve the flavor profile.

Wines that are sold as “made with organic grapes” have different requirements than organic wine. When a wine is labeled as being made with organic grapes, 100% of those grapes used must be certified organic. Yeast and any other agricultural ingredients aren’t required to be organic, but have to be produced without excluded methods (like genetic engineering). As for non-agricultural ingredients, these have to be specifically allowed on the National List. Finally, sulfites may be added to wines that carry the “made with organic grapes” label—up to 100 parts per million.

Organic wine is produced all over the world. Regardless of whether it comes from the European Union, Latin America or South Africa,wine that’s sold as organic in the U.S. has to meet strict standards. Organic wine produced in the U.S. can currently be exported to Canada, the European Union, Japan, and Taiwan. These trade partnerships create new markets for organic winemakers in the U.S. To find out more about organic wine, check out the National Organic Program’s neworganic wine fact sheet.

7 Responses to “Organic 101: Organic Wine”

  1. Peter Mitchell says:

    What about other “wines”? Say, cider (essentially, apple wine). Or, fruit wines. Can these be “made with organic apples”, and add sulfites (up to 100ppm)?
    If not, why not? What makes fermented grapes so different from any other fermented fruit?
    Will the USDA work to rectify any discrepancy between these wines?

  2. Del Long says:

    Thanks Miles – you and your team are doing a fantanstic job.

  3. mark says:

    can organic SO2 be added?

  4. Rebecca [USDA Moderator] says:

    @Peter – Thanks for your questions about other fruit based drinks. Sulfur dioxide (sulfites) may be added to yield less than 100 parts per million in finished grape wine, but may not be added to wine “made with” other organic fruit (e.g., apples). The National Organic Standards Board, a citizen advisory board appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture, serves as a “gatekeeper” for allowed and prohibited substances in organic agriculture. Any individual or business can submit a petition to change the allowance of a substance. You can find out how to file a petition at http://www.ams.usda.gov/NOPFilingaPetition

    @Mark – Good question. Since sulfur dioxide (SO2) isn’t an agricultural product, it can’t actually be certified organic. For wine sold, labeled, or represented as being “made with organic grapes,” sulfur dioxide may be added to yield less than 100 parts per million in finished grape wine. Thanks for following our Organic 101 series.

  5. Pam Strayer says:

    I’m sorry – how can you say Organic wine kept up with this growth. Less than 2% of California’s wine grapes are certified organic – organically grown wine is certainly not 12% of wine sales. Can you be more specific about what you mean? Both categories – Organic Wine and Made with Organic Grapes comprise a tiny fraction of overall wine sales and overall organic beverage sales. NOP has done more to prevent the growth of organic viticulture in this country than any other single entity – it’s a shame! The U.S. has only 2% organically grown wines *not organic wine* while France has 6% and you can find organic wine (which means viticulture only in the rest of the world) on many more menus when you travel in Europe. It’s hardly on any wine menus in the U.S.

  6. Pam Strayer says:

    I’d like to add a question – why is the category “Ingredients-Organic Grapes” not addressed in the fact sheet?

  7. Mario says:

    hi friend! i form Argentina
    I like Malbec wine… im fan
    thanks for information
    cool and regards

Leave a Reply