The Huffington Post occasionally notices wine, but politics are its main gig. When it does run a wine piece, it's apparently edited by people who don't know anything about the topic; some of its wine pieces have been embarrassing.
This week, the Huffington Post ran an innocuous, poorly written and edited piece about organic wine that nobody seemed to read; there are no comments.
Yet it's actually a huge story, about US law regarding organic wine possibly changing for the better.
Here's the deal. Currently, US law does not allow wines labeled as "organic wine" to contain any added sulfites. This is bad because sulfites preserve the fresh fruit flavors in wine. A wine without added sulfites is vulnerable to spoilage, and in any case can not be expected to last long on the shelf.
US law is out of sync with European law. The French in particular recognize the necessity of adding sulfites to wine; most of the "organic wines" you see from France have sulfites added.
This silly restriction is the reason I (and other wine writers) have discouraged readers for years from buying wines labled "organic wine." Instead, if you care about the environment and the way your wine grapes were farmed, I encourage you to drink wines labeled "made from organically grown grapes," or biodynamic wine.
The reason US law developed this way is because the federal bureau in charge of US wine law (now known as the TTB) is usually reactive, rather than active. The TTB doesn't make policy; instead, it responds to petitions from businesses to make changes, such as creating new American Viticultural Areas.
I've been told the original applications for an official "organic wine" designation on US wine labels were led by anti-sulfite zealots at a time, decades ago, when few wineries cared about organic wine because it was a tiny niche. Most wineries didn't want to use the label anyway, so nobody fought very hard over how the regulations were written.
Now, organic anything is a big category, and more wine companies want in. But they want to rewrite the standards to allow added sulfites so their wine won't smell like dirty socks after a year on the shelf.
On the surface, this sounds like a Huffington Post story -- wine companies want to weaken organic standards.
But look at the company that, according to the story, has made the proposition. It's not The Wine Group or Gallo or Constellation: it's "Organic Vintners," a tiny wine importer that apparently has two employees (they haven't returned my calls.) And right on its home page, the company brags that one advantage of organic wine is that it's low in sulfites. This is not an agribusiness.
That said, the size of the companies here is immaterial. What matters is that many consumers' desire for a wine made through responsible, safer farming is being held hostage by a tiny minority who think sulfites are bad.
Ronnie Cummins, director of the "Organic Consumers Association," wrote the Huffington Post piece. I'm sure he's well-meaning; organic food standards are under constant attack from agribusiness. But he clearly knows nothing about wine, because he writes a lot about the USDA and doesn't mention the TTB, which has jurisdiction over wine labels. It's not clear to me from reading his piece that he has ever had a glass of wine in his life.
Wine lovers can't let people like this decide on standards for wine labels. I want "organic wine" on a label to mean something other than "unpreserved wine that probably tastes bad." I want it to mean what it does in France: "lovingly farmed wine made from grapes not exposed to pesticides and herbicides."
I want to throw my support behind Paolo Mario Bonetti, Organic Vintners and their attempt to change US organic wine label standards for the better.
So my first call (metaphorically speaking) is to the Huffington Post, to do a better job on this issue. Assign a real reporter and a real editor; don't let somebody who knows nothing about it write an opinion piece.
And Paolo, give me a call. I'm on your side.