Living and working in New York City in the 1980s, my girlfriends and I often took weekends “upstate” to escape the hustle and bustle of big city life. On one such weekend, we decided to explore the Finger Lakes Wine District. Not really known as a major wine region, New York State nonetheless offered some spectacular vineyard scenery, and we were intrigued. What we discovered on this memorable trip was something quite wonderful.
You see, we “discovered” organic wines, at a vineyard called Four Chimneys. Yes, we thought we were the first ever to taste and get somewhat drunk on organically grown wine. And, to our great amazement, we did not experience the day-after hangover that normally accompanies the consumption of several bottles of wine. We, of course, attributed it to the wine’s “organic” state, with its lack of pesticides and other horrible additives. Were we on to something?
Four Chimneys (www.fourchimneysorganicwines.com) is still in existence and per its Web site claims to be the first organic winery in North America, having produced their premiere vintage in 1980. They further state that “nothing toxic or synthetic goes into the growing of our grapes or the making of our wines.” They also use lower levels of natural sulfites than many conventional wines, and do not use sorbate compounds or other preservatives, all of which they state can cause headaches.
Is this why my friends and I didn’t get hangovers after our visit there in the 80s?
I had this in mind last week as I began my semi-annual 30-day vegan cleanse, where I attempt to rid my body of the toxins built up from food and the environment. The one difference between this and my previous cleanses, however, is that this time I refused to cut wine out of my diet. So, off I went to my local health food store to stock up on organic delicacies, including a bottle of organic rosé from Chacewater winery (www.chacewaterwine.com), which I’ve had before and liked very much (priced around $15).
The front label states, “Made With Organically Grown Grapes.” Is this the same as "Organic" wine? No, says Paul Manuel, owner and general manager of Chacewater. “The difference between the two is the level of sulfites,” he says. While “organic” wine can have no sulfites, the label “made with organically grown grapes” (see label to right) allows for less than 100 parts per million, and, adds Manuel, “We’re comfortable making wine this way.” Because Chacewater sources some grapes from outside their own vineyards, their wines are technically not organic, but their facilities are certified organic and audited once a year by the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). Manuel says that about 90% of his grapes are organically grown, and he’s urging his one non-organic (but sustainable) producer to go this direction.
Sulfites, which Manuel agrees can be the cause of headaches in people, also help retard spoilage in the bottled wines. He says that no-sulfite organic wines can spoil, which in some circles has given organic wines a bad reputation. But he’s seeing more consumers seeking out organic wines, and believes the quality of these is going to grow exponentially. “It’s a good market, an exploding market. It’s how people want their community to be – they want to see [organic] processing and farming.”
Located in the Sierra foothills in northern California, Chacewater started operation in 1990, growing grapes organically because “it’s the only way I know how to farm,” says Manuel. While proud of the organic grape label, his No. 1 concerns are his reputation and the quality of his wines. He must be doing something right, as Chacewater was named “Golden State Winery of the Year” at the 2012 California State Fair commercial wine competition.
The governing and granting of “organic” status varies from state to state and the European Union rules are separate from those in the US, but there seems to be movement toward more organic wine production, at least in the US. Per the USDA Web site blog (http://blogs.usda.gov/2013/01/08/organic-101-organic-wine/), which cites 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.”
Whether organic, made with organically grown grapes, or grown and processed conventionally, I agree with Chasewater’s Manuel that quality and reputation should be a winery’s the No. 1 concerns. But if organic viticulture and vinification become the norm, I’m all for it. No more headaches.
Shopping for organic wines? Check out your local health food store or go online to such sites as http://www.ecovinewine.com/.
Learn more about the Full Body Vegan Cleanse at http://fullbodyvegancleanse.com/.
Until next time, cheers!