Monday, February 20, 2012

US leaves wine out of organic deal with EU

The US and EU concluded a major deal on organic food labeling last week, basically agreeing to recognize each other's certification processes. In other words, if canned peaches are certified organic in Spain, they may be labeled as "organic" in the US.

The only product left out of the agreement was wine, and once again sulfites were the culprit.

The EU allows sulfites in "organic wine." The US does not.

Wines labeled as "organic" in the EU will have to use "made from organic grapes" in the US. This is the designation smart buyers should look for. Ironically, wines that say "made from organic grapes" in the US may be labeled as "organic wine" if exported to the EU.

The semantic distinction is rather silly, but important. Sulfites are crucial for wine production; wine is not likely to have fresh fruit flavors and aromas without them.

(By the way, you are not allergic to sulfites.)

Say what you want about the EU, but many of its member countries simply know more about wine than the US. The US National Organics Standards Board considered a petition to allow sulfites in organic wine last year, and a steering committee voted 5-0 to approve it, but the full board voted against it.

Organic viticulture has never been more popular, and the market for organic products continues to grow. It's a shame that the "organic wine" label remains a dumping ground for lesser wines, while uncertified eco-labels proliferate at stores like Whole Foods. In fact, many good wineries prefer not to announce their organic practices on their label for fear of being tainted through connection with poorly made, USDA-labeled "organic wine."

When I first read the announcement of the mutual certification agreement, I hoped the EU had managed to save us from ourselves. Hah. No European tells an American what to do.

Maybe instead of labeling certified organic European wines as "made from organic grapes," we should just call them "freedom wines."

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Anonymous said...

not sure I get the USDA. Why not have 3 categories -- organic, organic / sulfite free and sulfite free? Then everyone would be able to get exactly what they want

W. Blake Gray said...

Unfortunately there aren't many wine experts involved with the USDA. The organic food proponents who fear sulfites in wine generally have their hearts in the right place; they just don't understand the issue.