The term “organic” when applied to wines is quite confusing. Oddly, there seems to be little confusion about what constitutes organic produce at the market, for example with apples, oranges, and lettuce. The consumer expects these foods to be grown naturally and without the use of commercial pesticides and herbicides. Why are grapes (which are also considered produce) so different? The answer lies in one simple additive: sulfites. In order for wine grapes to be classified as organic by the USDA, a winemaker can not add any sulfites, and this in many situations, will result in an unstable and inconsistent end product. It is important to note, that sulfites occur naturally and are found in a variety of produce including garlic, onions, and grapes. In fact, there is no such thing as a “sulfite-free wine” because of these naturally occurring compounds. It is also significant that we are talking about parts per million (ppm) with sulfites and that less than one percent of the population is highly allergic to this ubiquitous substance. Because most winemakers understandably want to prevent spoilage and bacteria growth, they have added tiny amounts of sulfites for centuries to protect their vinous products.
What does this mean for wines we offer our guests at Greens? I believe that the wine program is an extension of our food program at the restaurant, so I endeavor to source wines with the same care that our chef’s source vegetables and produce. I go to great lengths to purchase wines from smaller winemakers that do not use commercial pesticides or herbicides, produce their wines in a responsible and ethical manner, and use minimal levels of sulfites to achieve their desired results. So even if a winemaker uses organically grown grapes, but engages in unethical labor practices or environmental degradation, I will not serve their wines, no matter how good or interesting they are. Our goal is always to serve delicious and food-friendly wines made in an ethical manner and in harmony with the environment. Many of our producers are so small that they can’t afford official certification (which is time consuming and expensive) but often times we know them personally and their practices are consistent with our standards and values. Of course this represents a challenge, but like all things driven by more than pure profit, the extra effort, we believe, results in a wine program that we can be proud of and excited to share with our valued and health-conscious guests.