It's a story that almost every other media outlet has been getting wrong. The argument against adding sulfites is very convincing, if you don't know wine, and most environmental journalists don't.
Maybe -- just maybe -- my story can lead to a healthier environment, better wines, and more informed consumers. Wow, what a dream.
This blog post isn't intended to retell the story, so please go here and read it. What I want to do is add some perspective and answer some questions that I couldn't address with a print newspaper word count.
I interviewed a lot more winemakers than I quoted. In particular, I interviewed zealots from the "natural wine" crowd -- people who risk using only native yeasts and believe in minimal intervention. These folks sneer at mass-market winemaking, yet all of them said they add sulfites to their wines when necessary.
|The reusable NPA bottle|
And yet, it's even on their website: "Sulfur is used only when absolutely necessary and in very small quantities." Hardy Wallace, better known as a wine blogger than the NPA's sales and marketing rep, explained that for some batches of wine, it's a choice between adding sulfites or pouring them down the drain.
Matt Lickliter of Lioco Winery says the issue should not be whether sulfites are allowed in "USDA Organic wine," but how much should be allowed. He suggested a 50 ppm (parts per million) limit, which would probably be fought by most big companies, but would allow dedicated vintners to make their organically farmed, lovingly processed wines "organic." He wasn't the only winery guy to tell me that some of his wines exceed 10 ppm without any sulfur additions, because sulfites are naturally occurring.
What green-minded consumers might do is look at the substitutes people are buying for "organic wine" because that category is so small. "Certified sustainable," in California, allows you literally to throw all of your plastic trash in the Napa River. One year ago, "natural wine" was almost always made by idealists, but once the category got some traction, wineries without the same environmental commitment began to realize that "natural wine" has no standards whatsoever.
Currently the best type of wine for Earth lovers is "biodynamic" by default. It's a religion that's more than a little nutty, but it does force grape growers to lavish care on their vines and their soil. But its science is indefensible.
"USDA Organic wine" could be more widely produced, available and consumed than it is now. And it's important, because it's the easiest green-friendly category to understand. But it will require people who are passionate about the issue to study it more deeply. Ask some winemakers, ask some farmers, educate yourself.