If you're trying to eat green, you're opting for local, seasonal, and/or organic foods whenever possible. If you like to drink wine, it would make sense to seek out organic options fitting with your green lifestyle. But the whole idea of organic wine is not as clear cut as it is with organic foods.
For a wine to be USDA-Certified Organic it must be made from grapes that have been grown without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and cannot contain any preservatives, including sulfites – synthetic additives used to purify and stabilize wine.
That's all fine and good, but most winemakers (and many wine drinkers) will tell you – wine cannot be wine without sulfites. Sulfite-free wines have a short shelf live and many lack the intricate characteristics of good wine. Wine is probably the only product where the organic label is actually considered a drawback.
Many vintners do use organic grapes simply because it makes for a better product. They do not, however, undergo the costly organic certification process because they still need sulfites to bottle an age-worthy wine and the organic wine label adds little (if any) value to their product. Some of these winemakers will label their wine as "made with organic grapes." To use this label, the winery and its farming practices still need to be certified organic by the USDA and the wine must contain a lower amount of sulfites (150 parts per million compared to the 350 parts per million maximum of other wines).
So, while you won't see a wide assortment of organic wines filling the wine shop shelves, you are likely to see more bottles labeled biodynamic or sustainable – meaning the winemakers ascribe to sustainable farming methods and use indigenous or organic yeasts in the fermentation process. Biodynamic wine must have a sulfite level lower than 100 parts per million.
More and more vintners today follow biodynamic practices in their wine making. Sustainable wine making processes (i.e., natural fertilizers and pest management, cover crops, no GMOs) simply make for better wine. Biodynamic wine making is nothing more than a return to European vineyard traditions. Some even argue that it will eventually become an industry standard. It really is a win-win situation – biodynamic wine is better for the environment and is a better quality wine. There is even an added health benefit. Because organic grapes have to fight off disease themselves they develop higher levels of resveratrol, the heart-healthy antioxidant found in wine, making biodynamic wine better for your health as well as the planet's.