HOME > Chowhound > Wine >


Why are organic wines so bad?

I’ve noticed a trend – if two restaurants can be called a trend - both here in LA and in San Francisco towards establishments devoted to serving organic fare but which insist on billing themselves as wine bars. My experience with organic wines is that they’re uniformly horrible and nothing I’ve been served, red or white, either at Bar Jules in SF, but more specifically here at Lou (Melrose and Vine) has proven any different. (At Lou, even the one or two selections that were not organic or biodynamic were unpalatable.) Not surprisingly the food at both places is fantastically good, but if I can’t enjoy a nice glass of wine with dinner it absolutely diminishes the experience. But what really gets me is that both places think they’re wine bars! I called Lou today to ask what they charge for corkage and was told that it was ‘bringing coals to Newcastle’ – they’re all so nice there I didn’t have the heart to tell them they’re a million miles from Newcastle.

So I guess my question is, why is it that organic wines are so bad? Apparently organic beer is terrific (I don’t drink beer) and obviously organic food is too, but I don’t get why grapes grown organically shouldn’t produce great wines. Is it that the wineries are so focused on agriculture that they pay less attention to the winemaking? Or do sulfites make that big a difference?

Just curious, and I’m not knocking Lou by the way, it’s definitely worth suffering through the wine list to experience the food.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Sulfites make a big difference. Yet there are some organic wines (all French) that I love, like Joly and Chidaine.

    1. This should definately be on the wine board. There is a lot of information to cover. There are organic wines, and organically grown wines, and biodynamic wines. A lot of wines that are grown organically will not have that written on the label. Literally just a very time consuming topic. Move to the wine board and I'm sure you will have lots of discussion.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Rizza

        Thanks for the tip, I'll do that if I can figure out how :)

      2. They aren't necessarily. But before we delve into this, would you name some of the bad organic wines you've tried?

        13 Replies
        1. re: carswell

          I wish I had kept track but the best I can do is to say that they've all been in fairly nice restaurants in LA and one in SF. The first half dozen or so were oddities on the wine list, i.e. not at restaurants that were dogmatic about being organic, and the rest were at the two places I mentioned above --between them I've tried 7 different wines, both white and red. I'm by no means an expert by the way but part of the reason I'm even asking this question is that it seems like every time I really dislike a wine lately it's been because it's organic. I'm going to Lou again soon and will try the Chidaine and report back but I have been curious for months why organic should be bad for wines. Thanks!

          1. re: waferthin

            Hmm. Bar Jules's website doesn't include a wine list but Lou's -- www.louonvine.com -- mentions several producers whose wines they feature: "Clos Roche Blanche, Thierry Puzelat, and François Chidaine (Loire); Tissot (Jura); Walter Massa (Piemonte) and Clara Marcelli (Marche); Olivier Pithon, Jean Gardies, Ferrer-Ribière, and Gerard Gauby (Roussillon); Roland Velich and Franz Heiss (Burgenland); Ijalba (Rioja) and Ventura (Ribeira Sacra); from our own backyard, Steve Beckman's Purisma Mountain wines, Bucklin, Albini Family, Cooper Mountain, and Quivira". Many of those are producers I love and regularly buy (far more so, these days, than big name non-organic producers). Some of the wines are definitely quirky (endearlingly so, I and other wine geeks of the same ilk would say) and some are fragile due to their low sulfite levels, minimal filtration, etc., but I suspect you may just not like or have learned to appreciate the style. Which leads me to my next question: what non-organic wines do you think are good?

            1. re: carswell

              I’m afraid that asking me what wines I like is like asking me what fingers and toes I like – I’m kind of attached to all of them. It may be that I’m not accustomed to the organic ‘style’ but I’ve learned to enjoy a number of challenging characteristics in wine over the years from ‘barnyard’ to ‘burnt rubber’ and my sense is that if, after tasting more than a dozen, I still find organic wines made of many different varieties of grape to be of inferior quality there may be a good reason. And I’m not alone. This article appeared in Salon a little over a year ago, I’ll quote the relevant part of it:
              "Generally the taste of organic wines isn't very good," says Andy Waterhouse, interim chairman of the Department of Viticulture and Enology at UC-Davis. "People who want to buy organic wine should refrigerate it after buying. Personally, I'm not seeking out organic wines."
              So my question is not IF organic wines are bad, but why most of them are bad. I appreciate that there may be decent producers out there but it seems to be the exception and not the rule. I’m really just curious as to what makes the difference. The Salon article makes it sound like it’s really all about sulfites, but if people have found great organic wines maybe there’s some winemaking technique that can compensate for the lack of sulfites?

              1. re: waferthin

                You may not like a particular wine, and the reason you presume for not liking it is that the wine is organic. Instead, it's possible that it is the style of wine you don't like, or the flavor of particular grapes you don't like, and the organic fruit has nothing to do with it.

                Most wines are organic, BTW. Most wines are not labeled as such either. Many wines you have already enjoyed have been organic, and you were not aware that they were. The same is true for biodynamic wines. I've tasted really bad *and* really good biodynamic wines, and fabulous *and* not-so-fabulous organic wines. Many variables are at play. A winery may grow splendid organic fruit, and make it into so-so wine by the winemaker. It's difficult to tease apart just what it is that causes your dislike. I have found a few organic-labled wines that were "thin" or watered-down in flavor. Is that what you're referring to?

                1. re: waferthin

                  «my question is not IF organic wines are bad, but why most of them are bad»

                  I wasn't asking about your question but rather trying to find out what you're basing a (to my mind) flawed premise upon. And you're providing no help in that regard. Have you been drinking organic wine from crappy producers? Do you love industrially produced, malolactated, heavily oaked, tropical fruity Chardonnay and feel let down when you hold a sharp, minerally, artisanally produced organic Bourgonne-Vézelay against that yardstick? Are you basing your claim on low-sulfite US organic wines or on European organic wines, which can have high sulfite levels, or on both? You give us no clue. What do you consider good or bad? Again, we're in the dark.

                  Are most organic wines bad? Some sure are. But most? Not in my experience. On the contrary, I and many other wine lovers find that an increasingly large portion of the wines that excite us are from producers who favour organic or biodynamic methods, who believe good wine is made mainly in the vineyard, not in the winery. (Disclaimer: the vast majority of organic wines I'm familiar with are European; few West Coast organic wines make it to Montreal and, in any case, my palate leans toward Europe.)

                  Are most wines bad? Could be. Is the ratio of good wines to bad wines higher for organic or non-organic wines? Who knows but my WAG is that it's higher for organic (as far as I know, there's no organic equivalent to, say, Little Penguin).

                  That the head of the wine department at UC Davis pooh-poohs organic wines comes as no surprise. The university has done some very impressive research in areas like DNA profiling of grape varieties but is widely viewed as focused primarily on industrial production and post-harvest manipulation, as scoffing at "terroirists" and traditional production methods. About a decade ago, when I asked some of the staff at one of California's iconic wineries whether they viewed a Davis oenology degree as an asset on a job applicant's résumé, they said no, that the opposite was true because they'd have to deprogram the employee.

                  «The Salon article makes it sound like it’s really all about sulfites, but if people have found great organic wines maybe there’s some winemaking technique that can compensate for the lack of sulfites?»

                  The article is not very careful about distinguishing between US and non-US organic wines; for example, it's not clear which group Andy Waterhouse was referring to. In Europe, it's usually the producer who decides whether to bottle his/her wines with no or minimal added sulfites. And the few who do generally acknowledge a number of stability problems with such wines, whether organic or non, especially when the bottles are stored at room temperature. In other words, there are plenty of organic wines that contain added sulfites, so there's no need to compensate.

                  Final thought: Might your issue be with no-added-sulfite wines, not organic wines?

                  1. re: carswell

                    >>> whether they viewed a Davis oenology degree as an asset on a job applicant's résumé <<<

                    I've been amazed at how many grads are to be found in wineries I'm most fond of in the western US from our humble neck of the woods via CSU Fresno. I've always heard that UCD is research oriented whereas CSUF's focus is winemaking

                    1. re: carswell

                      Are you in Montreal? I just visited there this past fall and had some of the best food of my life there. And in fact a great Chablis at L'Express, but I'm bad at remembering producers.

                      To try and answer your question, I definitely do not like CA Chardonnays but I do like Chablis. I drink a lot of Italian whites, mainly Piedmont and Liguria but some Sicilian as well, like falanghina, greco di tufo and recently discovered the fantastic erbaluce. I don't know enough about how they're produced to know how manipulated they might be. I have a case of greco di tufo from Benito Ferrara (I think it's 2007) and another case of Erbaluce from Le Chiusure, and have found La Rustia to also be great for erbaluce. I also drink a lot of Sancerre, and I love roses as well - my faves are La Poussie, Petale de rose and the ever present domaine tempier. i don't drink as much red, but when I do it's pinot or again some italians -- i recently had a nero d'avalo (sp?) that I can't wait to go back for, and also a spanish tinto that was great. I'm also perfectly happy with what my friend calls 'cocktail' wines, like NZ sauvignon blancs or South African chenin blanc which are just fun and easy to drink. The only thing I don't really have a taste for is super big reds but I can't honestly say about the organic wines I've tried that I didn't like them because they had too much body.

                      It does sound like from a lot of the comments that the issue is not so much organic but organic-labelled. It's seems like it's parallel to the organic food situation when a lot of products are organic (or free range) in name but not in spirit. I find that a small kosher chicken (that may or may not be organic) or Mary's chicken that I can buy at Gelson's tastes way better than a 5 lb supposedly free-range Rocky or Rosie from Whole Foods.

                      1. re: waferthin

                        You like Piemontese whites, so do I! Have you tried Cascina Val del Prete arneis, and if so, I would like to hear your thoughts. It's biodynamic.

                    2. re: waferthin

                      **>>Department of Viticulture and Enology at UC-Davis<<**

                      Like with everything else, there are schools of "political" thought when it comes to winemaking. UC-Davis LEADS the school of thought that produces "Parkerized" wines -- it is a VERY pro-manipulation school. Quoting thier professors is like quoteing Alice Fiering on the other side of the argument. (Her name isn't even allowed to be mentioned on the erobertparker boards! If you try typing her name, it won't appear!)

                    3. re: carswell

                      The Loire producers listed here, Puzelat, Chidaine and Clos Roche Blanche, are some of my favorite winemakers on the planet.

                      Chidaine and the Bretons are considered some of the best winemakers in the Loire. Puzelat's wines can be a little quirky and weird, but I'd be surprised if anyone called them "bad"

                      Of the others on the list, I've only tasted Quivira's offerings. I'm not a fan, but it wasn't their "organic-ness" I had an issue with.

                      1. re: oolah

                        have you tried Quivira since Steve Canter took over as wine maker?

                        1. re: choucroutegarni

                          Not sure. I visited their tasting room a couple of years ago and found their wines a little too jammy for my tastes, but I'll look out for the newer releases and give it another shot.

                          I had that Puzelat Pineau D'Aunis recently and it's one of the weirdest wines I've ever had. In a good way. I really enjoyed it.

                          1. re: oolah

                            Heh heh, if you think that's weird, try Belliviere's "Rouge Gorge" '05 if you can find it. It's a Coteaux du Loir, 100 percent old vines pinea d'aunis made in a vin de garde style. Smells like clean, wet slate. The '06 is the current release and isn't quite as disturbing.

                2. Angela just received a favorable review from The Boston Globe for Nordstrom's Blue Stove wine list.

                  There are many wines that are organic and biodynamic which are incredible. I would have to say, generally speaking, wineries that are dedicated to the land AND the wine can create great wines. But, if a winery wanted to be green just so they could package it as green... they probably aren't so good. I visited a winemaker in Italy this last summer and she has been biodynamic since 1963 and she one of the top winemakers in Italy. She does not label her wines as organic or biodynamic.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: WineUnleashed

                    Organic and biodynamic are not the same thing.

                    1. re: zin1953

                      Biodynamic has to be organic by definition. But be careful about thinking they are good for the land. For that they need to be sustainable. For example, some wineries practice all organic farming but don't use some organic sprays which are really harmful to the farm workers (it's about the people too). Also they will use round up to kill weeds between plants b/c if they are on a hillside and have to plow it causes too much run-off. this effects wildlife in surrounding streams and does not sustain the land at all.

                      For more info I think you can get it on the web-site for Kunde winery (from Sonoma). They just won the govenor's award for being the most environmentally friendly company (business?) in California for any industry. It's the top environmental award for the state. They are sustainable but not organic.

                      1. re: Rizza

                        I didn't realize 'Round-Up' was within organic regulations - do you have a link for this? I would have thought hand weeding would be required though glyphosate-- is a fairly fast disappating chem.

                        1. re: OCEllen

                          What I said was people may choose to use round up and NOT be organic because they want to be sustainable. Plowing between vines to remove weeds causes run-off and is not good for the land or surrounding streams and aquatic wildlife.

                  2. Some of my favorite wines in the world are organic and biodynamic. When done commercially, these wines can come off as bland. But when done well by true artisans (Valentini, Gravner, Dettori, etc) these wines represent some of the most intriguiging and singular wines made on the planet.

                    45 Replies
                    1. re: whiner

                      Thanks for the specific recommendations, I'll keep an eye out for them. Do you happen to know if they're actually labelled organic for sale in the US, i.e. do they not add any sulfites? I've also noted some wines that are labelled 'post-organic' but I have no idea what that means.

                      1. re: waferthin

                        Most of the organic and biodynamic wines that I drink are not labelled as such. They are made this way because that is how the winemaker prefers to make his wines, NOT because it is en vogue. I can getyou a list of more realistically priced wines, too. Apart from the *amazing* Dettori Bianco (and the very impressive Dettori Tuderi) the labels I mentioned can be quite expensive.

                      2. re: whiner

                        I would have to agree. One that I'm loving right now is Benziger, out of Sonoma. They are devoted to the land, which, as WineUnleashed pointed out, makes a big difference. I've had plenty of organic wines that were terrible. Then again, I've had plenty of non-organic wines that are also terrible so... it's probably a matter of just exploring.

                        1. re: BeckyAndTheBeanstock

                          I toured Benziger maybe 4 or 5 years ago and they were doing biodynamic even back then -- one thing I will say is that it makes for a beautiful vineyard!

                          I've also had plenty of bad non-organic wines but I find that 100% of the wines LABELED 'organic' have been bad in a really specific way which leads me to believe that it may have to do with added sulfites. Either I don't like low-sulfite wines or, as someone else here suggested, they may just be less stable and harder to store well. In fact, I just went through my recycling (so gross) and found that one of the wines I recently had and loved was in fact made with organic grapes but is not labelled organic: Robert Sinskey Los Carneros Pinot Noir -- I threw it back in the bin so I don't know the year.

                          1. re: waferthin

                            <<I've also had plenty of bad non-organic wines but I find that 100% of the wines LABELED 'organic' have been bad in a really specific way>>>

                            What is the "really specific way" these wines are bad? If you have identified a specific way, please tell us the specifics.

                            1. re: waferthin

                              The problem with a lot of wines that go through the trouble of getting the organic certification is that the organic label is their entire marketing plan. Organic wines = sales in their minds.

                              1. re: orlwine

                                Yes, I see. In the absence of substance.

                            2. re: BeckyAndTheBeanstock

                              Just another opinion about Benziger:

                              Their wines are hugely disappointing. The mystery is this -- you'd think their biodynamic practices would produce better wine. I've tasted through the entire regular and reserve lines, and while I really, really want to like their wines, there's not a winner among them. I love the property, though. Too bad something so wrong is going on over there...

                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                Curious as to what you think should make a biodynamic wine necessarily better. I get the non-use of chemicals, the spiritual nature of the farming and love the concept of a self-nourishing system but I don't really see how those things would produce better wine. I'd like to think they would, but don't know how/why.

                                1. re: Midlife

                                  That's what everybody was saying back in the early 80s when Nicolas Joly started the trend.
                                  Answer: try any bottle from Joly and you'll know.
                                  Epiphany kind of thing.

                                  1. re: RicRios

                                    Seems like bad logic:

                                    Joly practices biodynamic winemaking.
                                    Joly makes good wine.
                                    Therefore biodynamic winemaking makes good wine.

                                    Maybe Joly's just a good winemaker. If you start with crappy grapes or don't have a good winemaking touch, I don't think biodynamic practices are going to magically make good wines.

                                    1. re: Frodnesor

                                      All men are mortal. Socrates is mortal. Therefore...
                                      Que sais-je, moi.
                                      À la tienne, mon vieux!

                                      1. re: Frodnesor

                                        Joly started farming using conventional methods. He was alarmed by what he saw happening to the soil in his vineyards. He fell for biodynamics in a big way, and is now quite the evangelist. His vinyeards have been transformed by biodynamic practice, in simple-to-see ways (soil structure, earth worms) and also more subtle ways (microscopic differences in root structure). In any event, Joly himself that by converting to biodynamics, the wine he makes is better.

                                    2. re: Midlife

                                      Jules Chauvet has a well-thought position on why organic farming produces more interesting, honest, and complex wines. Part of his argument has to do with creating a healthy ecosystem in vineyard soils, which he argues creates a richer, more complex environment for wild yeasts. It's similar to why cave aged, non-pasturized cheeses are always more complex than pasturized cheeses.

                                      1. re: choucroutegarni

                                        <<It's similar to why cave aged, non-pasturized cheeses are always more complex than pasturized cheeses.>>

                                        Slight quibble: Pasteurization takes the cheese out of the cheese.
                                        It removes the beneficial, flavor-giving microflora that give cheese much of its flavor.

                                        Cave-aging (or the introduction of mold(s) to make a specific kind of cheese) is a separate component entirely in its effect on fthe flavor, and an inconsistent one. Even Roquefort cheese, known for acquiring its characteristic flavor and blue veining from the mold in the natural caves under the French village of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, is now made by inoculating the milk with the Penicillium roqueforti mold before aging in the caves. So, cave-aging is a bit of a myth.

                                        I do agree that a healthy soil web is where it's at in organic farming, and have done a fair amount of research on organic "teas," the liquid extracted from specific composts. The nutrient delivery system is enhanced with a healthy soil web, and pests seem to be less attracted to the vineyard.

                                        1. re: maria lorraine

                                          coming right back at you: the strain of penicillium roqueforti, at least for AOC cheeses, is/was cultured from a wild strain isolated, indeed, from aging caves. The idea is that the caves themselves are part of the terroir for producing a specific cheese. Today, the caves just provide a really good, naturally cooled environment for aging cheese, as the cheese is now innoculated, but innoculated with a strain that was originally isolated from the caves. That's why you cannot produce a blue cheese outside of the AOC area that tastes remotely like roquefort; it may be a delicious cheese on its own merits, but it won't taste like roquefort. I haven't double-blinded this assertion.

                                          In addition, I think Cowgirl Creamery cheeses, properly ripened, are quite good--they use a mix of bacteria to bring back some of the complexity of raw milk cheese to a product that uses, because of idiotic USDA ideas of food safety, pasturized milk.

                                          Note that this second scenario is used by some natural winegrowers, too: it's possible to create a culture of the originally wild yeast strains from your own cantina and use that to ferment with--you're still using wild yeasts, but also remove some of the risk in doing so.

                                          1. re: choucroutegarni

                                            I pointed out above that you mistakenly conflated two distinct flavor components of cheese and then likened them to organic wine: raw vs. pasteurized is one component, innoculated vs. naturally occuring molds is another.

                                            While there is a parallel in organic winemaking relative to cave-aging and introduced molds vs. naturally occuring molds, there is no direct parallel for raw vs. pasteurized milk in organic winemaking. (You could assert that the parallel is organic vs. non-organic farming practices, but that does not apply to organic winemaking.) So part of your analogy worked, part of it didn't work so well.

                                            In the case of Roquefort, the same mold is both innoculated and naturally occuring. This is part of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon's terroir.

                                            Some of Cowgirl Creamery's cheeses were created with naturally occuring molds. When Red Hawk was first created, brevibacterium linens arrived, airborne and unexpected, and created red streaks on the rind and a flavor similar to Epoisses. In this case, it was a happy accident, an expression of Cowgirl Creamery's terroir, and as a result, a new cheese was born. But it wasn't the cheese Cowgirl Creamery set out to make when it happened.

                                            B. linen's arrival was serendipitous, but as many cheesemakers and winemakers will tell you, many molds and yeasts in an individual environment or terroir will create terrible flavors in cheese and wine -- and that becomes a huge challenge for the cheesemaker or winemaker. With organically made wine, how do you keep out the nasty yeasts that create terrible flavors?

                                            Granted, a vineyard and winery, or specific cheesemaking area like Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, may have an individual "signature" of microorganisms, most of which are beneficial. But these signatures are not consistent, and bad bugs can easily creep in and wreak havoc with the flavor. I understand your terroir argument -- have researched extensively in this area -- and some terror is bad-tasting terroir.

                                            So your assertion that cave-aged, non-pasteurized cheeses are always more complex than pasteurized cheeses shows you haven't tasted the ludicrously horrible cave-aged cheeses that were affected by bad molds. Or even cheeses that are not cave-aged that got hit with a bad batch of airborne mold. Generally, those cheeses are never released because they're so awful. Even worse is when this bad airborne mold hits the entire cheesemaking facility, and every single cheese gets infected.

                                            Perhaps you also haven't tasted organic wines that were rendered god-awful by bad yeasts or other bacteria that could not be controlled because sulfur or potassium sorbate could not be added. Some of Coturri's wines are this way.

                                            Organic winemaking is completely unwieldy, a crap shoot, a tightwire act. Which I'm sure you know. Occasionally the wines are brilliant. Most are so-so, and sometimes the wines are so bad they're never released.

                                            1. re: maria lorraine

                                              Just to add to ml's comment, when you take a strain of bacterium (or yeast) and isolate it, culture it, and then use it as an innoculant, it is no longer the same as the wild (indigenous) strain. It has been purified. It's now a single, pure strain . . . at least as far as winemaking is concerned.

                                              Every vineyard on the planet has indigenous yeast present in it, yet some wineries which attempt to use it (rather than innoculating with a cultured strain) ALWYAS have problems, while others NEVER do. Why? Because some particular yeasts can (and do!) cause off-odors, -flavors during fermentation.

                                              To generalize (meaning that the following may by-and-large hold true, there certainly are a number of exceptions), where vineyards dominate the landscape (i.e.: a monocultural environment), there are fewer problems -- that is, the indigenous yeasts tend to be "purer" than in a more varied environment.


                                              1. re: zin1953

                                                Here in Los Angeles we have a baker named Nancy Silverton. She started a bakery many years ago based on breads that are leavened with a wild yeast culture harvested from organic grapes. She has a method for keeping this culture alive over time so that you can use it dependably to bake bread. The mental model I have is that her method is essentially a small ecosystem for sustaining the original wild yeast culture. She doesn't bother to isolate the yeasts, she just keeps a mess of them growing happily, albeit slowly, in the fridge.

                                                1. re: choucroutegarni

                                                  But that's not true.

                                                  Even though Silverton used organic grapes in her starter, the lactobacilli and yeasts in the starter are actually from the flour or grain. "The particular varieties of yeast and lactobacilli [on grapes] have never been recovered in any sourdough starter that has been examined from any place in the world."*

                                                  There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Lactobacilli and yeast strains.
                                                  Each is specifically adapted to grow on a particular thing. Grapes have yeast and lactobacilli on them but they are specific to grapes, just like certain lactobacilli are specific to yogurt. Other lactobacilli and microorganisms are specific to cheese.

                                                  That's why, when beginning a bread starter, it's important to use lactobacilli and yeasts that are *already* adapted to growing on grain. Rye grain and rye flour are the best -- even if making whole-wheat or white bread -- because rye already has the greatest quantity of the specific lactobacilli and yeast that you want in a starter. Mix in a little pineapple juice to provide acidity (to keep away nasty "yeasty beasties") and a fermentable sugar, and the starter really takes off.

                                                  Yes, a bread starter is an ecosystem, but one of grain/flour lactobacilli and yeasts, not those from grapes even if they're used.

                                                  Agreed, an individual vineyard and winery is also an ecosystem of microorganisms -- I mentioned this above several times as an individual "signature" of microorganisms.

                                                  But that isn't necessarily a good thing. It's just a thing, until the beauty or ugliness of flavors created by that ecosystem reveals itself.

                                                  *Read more here:

                                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                                    what do the grapes do, then, in her starter?

                                                    1. re: choucroutegarni

                                                      My guess: contribute sugar as food for the yeast to keep the starter going, and possibly some flavor.

                                              2. re: maria lorraine

                                                Hmm, I thought for AOC Roquefort the mold had to originate from strains harvested directly from the cave to qualify as AOC cheese? Anyway, I think I didn't express myself very clearly: I only meant to establish a similarity between a good natural mold-ripened cheese and a good organic wine, insofar as terroir makes them both possible. Native yeasts are part of the terroir equation, but just one part. I guess you can take the extreme operationalist view and assert that because terror cannot be measured it cannot be, but any self-respecting Burgundy drinker would stare at you blankly.

                                                Again, not to push Chauvet too much, but he does have an interesting take on just why organic wine making need not be a crapshoot. I really enjoy the wines made by his disciples; right now, I'm enjoying Guy Breton's Morgon vielles vignes very much. Note that this is not a USDA organic wine, as it is made with sulfur (a little bit). In addition, did you know that even our friend Tony Coturri uses sulfur with at least some of his wines? You’ll see the phrase “no detectable sulfur” on the label: that doesn’t mean it was made without sulfur, just that there was no sulfur left by bottling time.

                                      2. re: maria lorraine

                                        Midlife, in answer to your post...
                                        I do believe organic fruit farming produces more flavorful fruit. I also think organic wine-grape farming produces more flavorful wine grapes. I'm not so sure about biodynamic farming and its effect on wine grapes. Its combo of organic farming, phases of the moon, mysticism, folklore and other elements seems a little hokey to me, but others firmly believe in it, especially in Europe. I mentioned my opinion of Benziger wines because it seems all the effort to farm biodynamically should result in benefits to the wine grapes (and entire growing system) that go beyond those from organic farming. But that doesn't happen. The wines are terribly disappointing. Perhaps the Benziger grapes are more flavorful from being farmed biodynamically, but those flavors are killed by the winemaking. Beats me.

                                        1. re: maria lorraine

                                          Well.......... almost every winemaker I've ever met agrees it all starts with the quality of the fruit. Maybe happy fruit makes better wine. :o)

                                          1. re: Midlife

                                            You reminded me of the commercials on the West Coast for
                                            Happy Cows Make Better Cheese, and the specific one --
                                            my favorite, entitled "Foot Massage:"

                                            Good wine, begins, at a minimum. with happy grapes. But happy fruit doesn't guarantee happy wine. Things can happen 'twixt vine and barrel, and even afterwards, that diminish the quality of the fruit.

                                            So, i guess the question for me is, then, what constitutes happy? In regards to wine. Are biodynamic grapes happier than organic grapes? Do they make better wine? I've noticed some 100% organic wines strike me as wimpy. Is that generally so? Is the entire category wimpy? I don't have enough tasting experience to know.

                                            If, if, there is a falloff in flavor in 100% organic or biodynamic wines, where does that happen in the winemaking process? Fermentation? Aging? Where? Does the lack of sulfur have anything to do with that? I don't know and I'm curious.


                                            1. re: maria lorraine

                                              As to the lack of sulfur..............In previous posts I've mentioned Coturri, in Glen Ellen, and I think you are familiar with them. Tony Coturri's no-sulfites added wines are anything but wimpy. So much so that Parker actually likes them.

                                              1. re: Midlife

                                                Yet another example of where he and I disagree . . .

                                                Some of the very worst wines I have ever had in my life have come from Coturri. Then again, some have indeed been very good.

                                                1. re: zin1953

                                                  I'd be the first to agree that Coturri wines are almost always excessively fruity (some would say sweet) and I've always thought that was intentional to allow the wines to last without sulfites. I've had to warn people that they are often close to 'dessert style' and usually closer to 'on steroids' than stylistically 'correct'. Notice I didn't say I always like them, though his field blend is really very good. I had to advise customers that, for example, his Pinot was not like most Pinots.

                                                  But Parker has usually rated them at or just below 90 points, though he says his reviews of Coturri bring among the most controversy of anything he reviews.

                                                  1. re: Midlife

                                                    Coturri is a big believer in whole cluster fermentation, ergo, the frutiness. If you don't drink a lot of whole cluster wine, you might find his wines too fruity. I like 'em, some more than others. Personally, I think some of the wines have too much residual sugar, but I love that the guy has such an intensely personal vision for the wine he makes.

                                                    1. re: choucroutegarni

                                                      Are you ascribing the fruitiness of Coturri's wines to his whole-cluster fermentation and not the ripeness level of the fruit? For example, his Zin clocks in at 16.5 ABV. That's super-ripe fruit.

                                                      Coturri's wines often have RS, perhaps because the wild yeasts are spent before the wine is fermented completely dry. But another reason for the perceived sweetness is the high alcohol. When the Zin, as an example, has 16.5 ABV, at that point you are tasting ethyl alcohol, which tastes very sweet -- like caramel, in fact -- even when a wine is dry. Combine that with RS and -- whoa nellie! -- the wine can taste cloyingly sweet.

                                                      I've read a lot about Coturri *crushing* grapes, and his special crusher-stemmer (one place it's described in his website), which is indicative of him not using whole-cluster fermentation. Which wines does he ferment whole-cluster?

                                                      Jjust to provide a full picture, sometimes the fruit in Coturri's wines is not good at all, and his wines can be riddled with flaws. But, like you, I admire his personal vision and iconoclasm. He doesn't always succeed but he is, in a way, an American version of Joly.

                                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                                        Yes, I am ascribing the frutiness in part to his use of whole cluster, but you're right, some of it comes from the fruit ripeness, alcohol, as well as RS. Not all of his wines are so high in alc., e.g., the old vine carignan I think is "only" 14.5. I def get ethyl cinnamate in his wines, which probably contributes to the perception of sweetness.

                                                        I believe all of his wines start with whole cluster and then are crushed and fermented like any other conventional wine (but with a lot of punchdowns, a lot, plus very little or no sulfur).

                                                        1. re: choucroutegarni

                                                          >>> I believe all of his wines start with whole cluster and then are crushed and fermented like any other conventional wine (but with a lot of punchdowns, a lot, plus very little or no sulfur). <<<

                                                          So -- what? -- fermentation begins as whole cluster, and then he pumps the fermenting must/clusters into a stemmer-crusher????

                                                          1. re: zin1953

                                                            I'm really enjoying this discussion as I've never been able to get Tony to explain, in detail, why his wines taste the way most of them do (I've called them "X-varietal on steroids").

                                                            Also............ is it me or has this part of the topic been deleted and resurrected a couple of times so far? I could swear I've looked and not found it.

                                                            1. re: Midlife

                                                              Some of the subthreads have been "cut into" and spliced, which has affected continuity, but I don't recall any deletions and resurrections, which could be the title of your new novel.

                                                            2. re: zin1953

                                                              Yep, that's what he does. As do legions of other winegrowers, too.

                                                  2. re: Midlife

                                                    and tony coturri grows some of the best wines out there on th west cost. he is one of the few that believe in the act of nature on wine as opposed to a style tht is revered by critics. a brilliant grower, and one who others can learn a lot from.

                                            2. re: maria lorraine

                                              >Just another opinion about Benziger: Their wines are hugely disappointing.<

                                              I thought I was the only one who actively dislikes their wine. I still take visitors there because it's such a good place but usually I don't even bother to taste. A few (several?) years ago I stopped into the Imagery winery without knowing anything about it and quickly realized that I didn't like their wines. Then I found out that it's a high-end line of Benziger. No surprise.

                                              1. re: Mick Ruthven

                                                That explains something to me. Imagery wines were recommended to me and I just don't like them at all. I already knew about Benziger.

                                                1. re: wally

                                                  Benziger has a new winemaker now, so I hope things improve.

                                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                                    When would the wines from the new winemaker at Benziger become available?

                                                    1. re: Mick Ruthven

                                                      Depends on the varietal, of course. Rodrigo Soto has just arrived on the scene. He comes from Chile. First harvest will be this year, so 2011 might be a good time to check in. That allows enough time for some juice to get into the bottle and settle down a bit.. For the reds, maybe 2012. Seems like a long time, doesn't it?

                                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                                        >Seems like a long time, doesn't it?<

                                                        No longer than it's been since I last tried their wine...

                                              2. re: maria lorraine

                                                Hardly any of their wines are organically grown and the ones that are are totally overpriced.

                                          2. There was just an article in the NY Times about the newly opened Canyon Ranch in Miami Beach, where they do serve wines at the restaurant (unlike the other Canyon Ranch locations), but in order to stay with the "theme" stick with "organic" (to varying degrees, I believe) wines.


                                            The wine we had there, a Gachot-Monot Nuit St. George, was quite good actually though the markup was rather fat.

                                            1. waferthin, it seems to me that your issue is not with what you are calling organic wines but with whatever specific wines you were tasting. Wines that are truly 100% organic (and there are really not many of them), are made without additional sulfites being added. They tend to not be very stable and, honestly, 95% of those I've tried were pretty horrid. Even the one label that I find pretty good is usually so fruity that many find it not to their liking. But a cursory look at the wines on Lou's site suggests that some of them are not even from organically grown fruit (what many call 'organic wine') let alone 100% organic. I'd be rather confident in suggesting that most of the wines you tried DO contain added sulfites.

                                              7 Replies
                                              1. re: Midlife

                                                I may be repeating an earlier post, but just to clarify, the wines I tried at Lou WERE organic, or at least marked as such on the menu. I think more than half the wines they pour are legally organic and/or biodynamic. I have had other wine there that was NOT organic that I liked - a red made from a grape I hadn't heard of before, magliocco (sp?). I haven't had anything non-organic there that I didn't like, but I've only been a few times so this isn't really scientific reporting. And I really don't want to single out Lou which is an excellent restaurant that you should run to try if you're in LA.

                                                But anyway I agree that it seems like the issue is not organic fruit but the regulations that restrict what winemakers are allowed to call organic, which wouldn't contain added sulfites.

                                                1. re: waferthin

                                                  Just to be sure you're getting my point here: In my searching I've found only a handful of 100% organic wineries (no added sulfites in their wine) in the USA. As far as I know, the majority (if not all) old world (European wines) also have some level of added sulfites added, though many would say their sulfite levels are lower than US wines.

                                                  There are MANY wineries that grow or use organically grown fruit, both here and in other countries. In many years of tasting wines, from both organic and non-organic grapes, I have never found any notable differences in taste relative to that distinction. Just my $.02, but I never have.

                                                  1. re: waferthin

                                                    Adding to the confusion is that restaurants are totally lax about specifying what organic is - i.e. practicing, certified Made with Organic Grapes or certified USDA Organic (avoid the last category because it means no sulfites). I have called many wineries to find out later that they were not certified and/or not even practicing organic. Sales people are the culprints, I think.

                                                  2. re: Midlife

                                                    I think you'll find that standards in both the EU and the US allow for the addition of sulfite in organic wine - they do however limit the amount.

                                                    1. re: Sam B

                                                      It may sound like semantic nit-picking but I think this topic is getting caught in the hangup of the correct definition of "organic wine". I have no doubt most people call any wine made from organic grapes "organic wine" but that is really not correct. By definition, "organic wine" would not contain added sulfites. The grapes can be organic but when the winemaker adds sulfites (or any other chemical) the wine should then be described as "made from organically grown grapes". Only wine made from organic grapes AND with no added chemicals is correctly called "organic wine". To underscore the difference, the term "100% Organic" is sometimes used to describe wine with no chemicals added.

                                                      I got into this extensively with people who wanted wine with no added sulfites due to real or perceived sensitivity to them. The distinction doesn't sound important to most people but it IS to someone with asthma and sulfite sensitivity..

                                                      1. re: Midlife

                                                        The number of which is vastly exaggerated . . .

                                                        1. re: zin1953

                                                          Agreed. Many people THINK they are sensitive to sulfites or that sulfites in wine give them headaches. As maria lorraine has helped me learn, there are very few for whom this is a real issue. That's why I said "or perceived sensitivity".

                                                  3. Please list six wines that are good so we know what you like.

                                                    1. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Bar Jules' incomprehensibly bad approach to wine service has tipped a few random bad wines into a trend for you. At Bar Jules, you have to request the better wine list to get access to decent wine; the stuff on the normal list is truly bad plonk and I don't understand why they can't find better cheap wines. The good quality list has some nice wines on it, but they still won't serve you wine in stemware...you have to drink it old school parisian style out of tumblers.

                                                      I love the food, but the wine service just doesn't make sense.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: SteveG

                                                        I would agree if it was just Bar Jules, but it seems to be the trend with every wine I've had that was specifically labelled organic -- I think the reasons have been pretty well hashed out, at least to my satisfaction, i.e. that plenty of organic fruit is going into non-organic-labelled wine which may add sulfites later, organic wines are less stable and I may just not like low sulfite wines.

                                                        But I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks that Bar Jules is confused about its identity. Thanks for the tip on the real wine list, I'll have to check it out next time I'm in SF.

                                                      2. must say that this is one of the more interesting threads that I've read recently. straight forward information and even-handed repartee.

                                                        I will say that the shotgun blast nature of the thread title got my attention...

                                                        1. Thank you for the thoughtful and kind words about my restaurant. I suggest that you give natural wines a chance--a lot of the wines I pour are "non-obvious," in that they do not reveal themselves to you at first. For example, the Briseau pineau d'aunis we're pouring right now--it's organically grown, and an old, fairly marginal Loire red variety. A really interesting and delicious wine that I think you would like, based on your preference for Piemontese wines. Then again, you may dislike Joe Dressner wines--admittedly, they are not for everyone.

                                                          5 Replies
                                                          1. re: choucroutegarni

                                                            There are good and bad organic wines, just as there are good and bad "regular" (for lack of a better term) wines . . . the biggest change in organic winemaking over the past 20-25+ years is that truly good winemakers are adapting biodynamic methods.

                                                            I've certainly had a higher number of bad organic wines in my life than great organic wines -- measured as an approximate ratio [x number of bad versus y number of good] -- compared to number of bad "regular" wines to great "regular" wines . . . but I long for the day when the distinction is irrelevant.

                                                            FWIW, Joe imports some superb wines, and it certainly appears that Estate is finally getting their act together . . .


                                                            1. re: zin1953

                                                              Um, not so fast about Estate...more news to come.

                                                              1. re: zin1953

                                                                Estate will not be handling L/D any more...but it seems that more of the L/D wines will make their way to the west coast...

                                                              2. re: choucroutegarni

                                                                I tried the pineau d'aunis last time I was in! Actually I think you were doing a flight of them that night, but I can't remember which one I tried -- I realize if I'm going to keep posting I need to do a better job of recording what I'm drinking. :)

                                                                It's funny you should bring up the pineau d'aunis because while I found it too challenging to finish the glass I have to admit I've thought about it a lot since then. It was definitely evocative -- I had a flash of a medieval court with rushes on the floor and wolfhounds lying around while people ate off trenchers with knives -- but more of a curiousity than something I would seek out again. But it did lead me
                                                                to reconsider -- not so much what I think about organic wines but about whether or not you should call yourself a wine bar because every time I come in I understand more and more what you're going for.

                                                                I think the thing with your wine list is that it has such a strong point of view that you almost have to be in an academic frame of mind to get the most out of the experience. I feel like I should be spitting into a bucket with some of the wines I've tasted -- not because they're bad :) but because you need to be in that space where you're thinking and not drinking. It's commendable, but it also tends to limit my desire to come in because mostly I want to enjoy wine, not appreciate it -- if that makes sense. On the other hand I really do applaud the fact that you're serious about natural wines, unlike places like Comme Ca or Hungry Cat who turned me off them in the first place with their token selections which they seem to serve without any real understanding or appreciation. And obviously you've already broadened my understanding of wine so even if I'm never going to love organic wines at least I no longer dispute your right to call yourself a wine bar. And regardless as long as you're serving that savory tart and frisee salad I'm a happy customer. :)

                                                                1. re: waferthin

                                                                  Well, we always offer a number of what I call "non-confrontational" wines, for example, right now a lovely St. Emilion satellite wine that's ready to drink on release, the Balbium that you sort of enjoyed, Baker Lane pinot noir, Dampt Chablis cotes de lechet, a Collioure blanc made by Pierre Gaillard. a chunky, bistro-style ribera del duero--even the clos roche blanche sauvignon--though it is grown organically, it is a very likeable wine. You won't find any buttery chardonnays, ever, or oaky napa cab, which perhaps makes me a bad business person because there are folks who will only drink those (don't even get me started on people who will only drink pinot grigio), but that's how I roll. I suggest you continue to give natural wines a chance--try clos roche blanche sauvignon, if you like Beaujolais, try any Beaujolais we serve, try some of Gauby's wines (his Muntada is his friendliest, but also $$$). Are the wines of Thierry Puzelat the best place to start? Probably not. On the other hand, I've been really pleased to see folks light up when they've tried his brin de chevre (menu pineau)...so, YMMV.

                                                              3. In direct answer to your question, after mulling this over and talking to a few winemakers, sulfur really does make a big difference in wine.

                                                                Adding it means the flavors in the wine stay put, and sulfur's presence can actually cause an *increase* in flavor, roundness and a satisfying fullness in the wine. Not adding sulfur means there is a great likeliness the wine be unstable, and lose its fullness, roundness and complexity.

                                                                Organic wines should be drunk VERY young, so part of the reason for your disappointment may be the organic wines you drank were more than 1-2 years old.Not all, mind you, but some or most. Several winemakers said that organic wines were only stable for a few *months," then they started to decline rapidly. I've never been a fan of organic wines, as a category. Wines made with organically grown fruit -- absolutely! Keep tasting!

                                                                29 Replies
                                                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                  I don't really want to keep this going on a tangent but Tony Coturri has told me he has wines of his he's cellared for 15 years or so and says they are still quite drinkable. I've never had personal proof of that but may just have to pay him a visit one day to see if I agree.

                                                                  1. re: Midlife

                                                                    Keep in mind that alcohol is used as a disinfectant.

                                                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                        Now, now.................. I've had almost all of the recent vintages of these wines and don't think they're not "bad" wines in the way I found several other 100% organic California wines to be actually oxidized and undrinkable within a year or two of bottling. This could go on forever, back and forth, but I was only trying to point out the anomoly.

                                                                        To be somehwat specific about how the Coturri varietals actually tasted to me, I'd say the Zin was almost like a late harvest, the Syrah was very full fruited (but not really over-the-top), the Pinot was among the fullest-bodied I've ver tasted, and the Albarello field blend was not out of line with any similar blend I've had.

                                                                        1. re: Midlife

                                                                          Double negative?? I don't think Coturri's wines are bad.

                                                                          1. re: Midlife

                                                                            In Tony's case, alcohol and/or residual sugar often take the place of SO2 in terms of giving his wines some "shelf life."

                                                                            Many "No Sulfur Added" organic wines have oxidized and fallen apart within six months of bottling . . . I know, as the sales manager of a California statewide wholesaler, I've had to send back to send back PALLETS of the $#!+ . . . .

                                                                            As for whether Tony's wines are good or not, well let's just say we disagree.


                                                                            1. re: zin1953

                                                                              Two things:

                                                                              1. <<"In Tony's case, alcohol and/or residual sugar often take the place of SO2 in terms of giving his wines some "shelf life." >>
                                                                              That's exactly what my belief has been.

                                                                              2. I have absolutely no problem in disagreeing over what I like in a wine. In my short 3 years of doing wine tastings in our shop, the difference in palate preferences was the one thing that was undeniable.

                                                                              1. re: Midlife

                                                                                " . . . the difference in palate preferences was the one thing that was undeniable."

                                                                                And isn't that a wonderful thing! Otherwise, we'd all be drinking 2BC! ;^)

                                                                  2. re: maria lorraine

                                                                    I haven't read it on the FDA's website, but my understanding is that normal wine can have up to 350 ppm of sulfites, and organic wine is limited to 100 ppm. Some organic winemakers may aim for 0, in which case their wine should be consumed immediately, but others probably add enough to make stable wines, assuming there's decent acidity and they have good cellar hygiene.

                                                                    FDA's labeling guidelines require a warning label if the sulfites exceed 10 ppm, which is pretty much the naturally occurring level for wine even without added sulfites, but if you find a wine without a sulfite warning then I'd be extremely leery of drinking it more than half a year after bottling.

                                                                    1. re: SteveG

                                                                      1) Keep in mind it's the TTTB -- the split-off division that was apart of the ATF until the 9/11 government reorganization -- that regulates wine, not the FDA.

                                                                      2) The head of the government's lab that tests wine has said (in an interview with me for publication) that his lab has "never tested a sample [that was] below 30 [ppm of sulfur dioxide." He repeated it three times to me, and when I asked him about the wines that *claim* to be below that, he replied, "We take their word for it."

                                                                      3) Also keep in mind that the government has, from time to time, tried to force ingredient labeling on wine. The last serious proposal was to force the labels to read something like this:

                                                                      WINE: grapes, water, sugar, yeast, and sulfur dioxide as a preservative.

                                                                      It was pointed out to the ATF (this was before the ATFE/TTTB split) that, under their own regulations it was illegal to add sugar and water to wine made from Vitis vinifera grapes.

                                                                      WINE: grapes, xxxxx, xxxxx, yeast, and sulfur dioxide as a preservative.

                                                                      The California wine industry pointed out that many people drink (e.g.) Brewer's Yeast for its potential health benefits, and that while it was true yeast did ferment grape sugar into alcohol, there was no actual yeast in the waine, and it would be false to claim there was.

                                                                      WINE: grapes, xxxxx, xxxxx, xxxxx, and sulfur dioxide as a preservative.

                                                                      Then, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chimed in and said that if indeed there was enough sulfur dioxide in the wine to truly act as a preservative, they would have to declare the wine "Toxic to Human Health."

                                                                      WINE: grapes, xxxxx, xxxxx, xxxxx, xxx xxxxxx xxxxxxx xx x xxxxxxxxxxxx.


                                                                    2. re: maria lorraine

                                                                      Thanks! That makes a lot of sense. Really it seems like wine lobbyists should put some money into either getting the regulations changed, or maybe the industry could implement some kind of labelling system so even if the wine wasn't legally 'organic' buyers would know the fruit was.

                                                                      1. re: waferthin

                                                                        waferthin--It's fascinating that not ONE person has actually backed you and your experiences with organically identified wine. Well, I'm with you.....my palate has said "no thank you" to just about every one of them. it's too easy to get caught up in the protection of the PC image of "organic/biodynamic," but people.....what's the bottom line? Is your palate pleased? Whether or not it's about fruit that a winemaker mangled or sprung from a cowhorn of dung, or was picked during the wrong moon phase, or sulfite-challenged, it seems more than a coincidence that the VAST majority of organically labeled wine has been a dud....for at least 2 people out there.

                                                                        1. re: drumwine

                                                                          It depends upon -- as with all things -- the specific wine. I will say I have had some really horrible wines that were labeled "organic." For the most part, however, these were in the 1980s and 1990s, and the primary focus of the winery was "Organic" -- as in THAT was the most important thing (it was organic), rather than the quality of the wine itself. (Think of "health food stores" in the 1970s!) But I've had many outstanding wines that were biodynamic, and from outstanding producers who "switched" to organic growing methods.

                                                                          The problem is that many (especially California) wineries seems to have developed as "organic" first, "winery" second. And that is more often than not backwards . . . .

                                                                          1. re: drumwine

                                                                            The thread lives! Sorry not to have replied earlier but I thought it had tapered off.

                                                                            I admit I didn't even think it was a controversial thing to say, since everyone I know in real life feels the same way I do, but given the number of people who've responded with dissenting opinions (including some pretty unjust flames, which I see have since been deleted) I have really really been trying to a) make a point of choosing organic wines in restaurants and b) finding something to like about them. I've done pretty well with former and struck out completely with the latter. I wish I could say I'll keep trying but after a month of experimenting, I'm looking forward to drinking something enjoyable for a change. What can I say, I love sulfites!

                                                                            1. re: waferthin

                                                                              But isn't a major point in this thread that many wineries that use organically grown grapes do not in fact label their wines as "organic"? Certainly this seems to be true for many European wines (i.e. M. Chapoutier wines are, I believe, biodynamic/organic, yet they are not labeled as such). Perhaps you should not focus on wines that are labelled organic.

                                                                              Recently I had a lovely wine from Carm, a Douro-region producer that uses biodynamic farming methods. It was not labeled as organic or biodynamic, yet it was in the liquor store's biodynamic/organic section. A blend of quinta national, quinta touriga and other Portuguese varietals, I thought it was a steal at $19.50.

                                                                              I really agree with Jason's point that wineries that put the emphasis on being "organic" over making good wine are doing things backwards. First goal should be to produce great wine; if that can be done using organic farming methods, all the better. Obviously it is possible to produce great wines from organically grown fruit.

                                                                              1. re: anewton

                                                                                I totally agree. As I've said elsewhere in this thread, my issue has been with wines that are labelled organic and biodynamic. I know how great organic ingredients are for food, so it only made sense that organic fruit could and should be great for wine so I was very curious as to why organic wines should be so uniformly bad. I think we've said this before but it seems like it's partially an issue with sulfies and partially the quality of a winery that's more interested in dogma and marketing than producing a great wine. i completely accept that there are plenty of wines that I may have enjoyed that are produced from organic fruit but don't advertise it, either because they don't care or because it's not legal if they add sulfites.

                                                                                1. re: waferthin

                                                                                  As a sociologist, I would judge your tasting methodology suspect because you're not tasting these wines blind. Are you willing to accept that you may dislike the organic wines you're tasting because you expect to?

                                                                                  Imagine the following double blind study, which to my knowledge has not been conducted: a series of wine pairs poured blind, each pair consisting of one conventionally farmed wine, and an organic or biodynamically farmed wine. Control for vintage, region, quality level, typicity, and style. Have the testers rank each wine in the pair according to preference. I'd be curious to see the results. The null hyopthesis is that there'd be no statistically significant difference between the two groups of wines. Waferthin, your hypothesis is that there'd be a marked preference demonstrated for the conventionally farmed wines. My hyopthesis? Well, I'd like to believe that the testers would, in aggregate, prefer the organic wines, I'm not convinced that the preference would be statistically significant.

                                                                                  1. re: choucroutegarni

                                                                                    Well actually no -- the first three wines I had that were organic, I only found out about after the fact (this was at Comme Ca, Hungry Cat and Bar Jules in SF) when, after finding it unpalatable, I asked for something different and the servers said ruefully something like "Yeah, it's organic."

                                                                                    I do like the taste test idea -- maybe something you should do at Lou? -- but I want to just nitpick this one point: My beef is with wines that are CERTIFIED organic, not those which are made from organically farmed grapes -- I may be drinking those all day long and not even know it.

                                                                                    I guess I can accept that I may just not like the style of organic or organicish wines, in the same way I don't like fruit-bomb CA pinot noirs or any pinot grigio or cremant style sparklers. However I wouldn't say that those were inherently bad wines, and in fact in certain contexts I would drink them happily. I'm sorry to say I still can't say that for any of the (once again, LABELLED) organics I've tried. But I have your list above and if I encounter any I'll try them and report back, thanks.

                                                                                    1. re: waferthin

                                                                                      <My beef is with wines that are CERTIFIED organic, not those which are made from organically farmed grapes -- I may be drinking those all day long and not even know it.>

                                                                                      Yes, the important distinction is not between organically or not organically farmed fruit, but the difference between conventionally and organically MADE wine.

                                                                                      I agree -- as a whole, as a category, organically made wines are disappointing. There are individual exceptions to this, of course.

                                                                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                        so, you're willilng to admit that organically grown may be OK in your book?

                                                                                        1. re: choucroutegarni

                                                                                          I don't understand your post. I've repeatedly praised (see above) organically grown wine grapes. Besides, most wines are organically grown. It's when wine is *vinified* organically that there is a fall-off in flavor. Not always, as I've also already said, but usually.

                                                                                        2. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                          maria lorraine, zin 1953 (Jason) ........... or whomever,

                                                                                          I've just jumped back into reading this topic and once again find that terms seem to be used in contexts that suggest the user is mixing meanings. I need a reality check from you.

                                                                                          My issue is specifically with the term 'LABELED organic'.

                                                                                          From all the comments here it sounds as if there are a lot of ORGANICALLY MADE wines on the market in the US. I just don't think that's the case. I see wines with stickers on the bottles that say "Organic" when their official labels do not say ORGANIC, which is not legal if they have sulfites added.

                                                                                          More to the point, from many of the specific wine references in these posts I'm just not sure that what people are calling ORGANIC wines in these like/dislike posts are really ORGANICALLY MADE wines. Personally I've only tried one organically MADE wine I liked, have found maybe ten or so that were LABELED organic, and have found no correlation between good and bad related to organically GROWN or not.

                                                                                          Beyond that........... when I go on the sites of French wineries such as those
                                                                                          mentioned in the post below (by choucroutegarni) I see references to organically grown fruit but no claim that they don't use sulfites. I attended an 'Organic' Wine event in Los Angeles a year or so ago (featured speaker was Nicolas Joly). I spoke with many 'organic' producers but none of them said (when I specifically asked) that they didn't use sulfites. Lots of wineries, all over the world, seem to refer to themselves as "organic" without the proper distinction between growing fruit and winemaking.

                                                                                          Sorry if I seem really anal about this. I've made something of a hobby of this subject and it drives me a little nuts when I see what appears to be misuse of these terms. I need to get this under control, if only for myself. Have I missed a lot of wines that are legally and correctly LABELED organic.

                                                                                          1. re: Midlife

                                                                                            All good points. Not only are wines labeled organic when they are not, but wines are thought to be organic when they are only made from organically grown grapes (but not vinified organically and so not organic wines).

                                                                                            The use of the word "organic" differs in definition the world over, and clearly there is mislabeling if not outright deception. The US definitions of organic are oddly construed, and, as you have described, Midlife, many international wineries call their wines organic when they are not. Again, the distinction between organically grown fruit and organically vinified wines is often blurred or misunderstood.

                                                                                            1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                              Thank you. It seems like many of the posts here have taken the tack that it's easier to continue the conversation without insisting on making that distinction. I understand why that might be but began questioning whether I'd missed a lot of organically vinified wines in my tasting. My anal side gets in the way sometimes.

                                                                                              If the OP had been referring to organically vinified wines I would have agreed with the topic premise and been able to explain it. Understanding the use of terms, I don't agree with it at all.

                                                                                        3. re: waferthin

                                                                                          We rarely/never sell certified USDA organic, and only occasionally Demeter-certified biodynamic.

                                                                                          Have you tried the Tissot Crémant du Jura or the Huber-Leger Crémant d'Alsace ? Bone dry, tight, focussed mousse, outstanding at their price point. Both are biodynamic, btw.

                                                                                  2. re: waferthin

                                                                                    Wafterthin, here are ten organic wines that are very, very good. If you've tasted any of them I'd be interested to learn what it is you dislike about them so much compared to non-organic versions of the same:

                                                                                    1. Guy Breton Morgon vielles vignes '06
                                                                                    2. Occhipinti nero d'avola '05
                                                                                    3. Clos Roche Blanche sauvignon blanc '07
                                                                                    4. Gerard Gauby Cotes du Roussillon vielles vignes '05
                                                                                    5. Francois Chidaine Clos Habert '05
                                                                                    6. Tissot Cremant du Jura NV
                                                                                    7. Palacios Bierzo "Petalos" '06
                                                                                    8. Movia Rebolla Gialla
                                                                                    9. Suronde Quarts du Chaume '05
                                                                                    10.Clara Marcellli Pecorino '07

                                                                                    1. re: waferthin

                                                                                      Mark Kreydenweiss labels his wine as biodynamic/organic, and they kick serious ass.

                                                                                      1. re: Cancuk

                                                                                        But note that they're not Demeter or USDA certified--which, to me, is besides the point. Just yesterday, I heard from a tremendously gifted young Piemontese winegrower (Varja--who makes perhaps the most elegant and delicous Barolo Chinato, btw) that his family's wines were, for a short while, certified organic by the Italian state, and stated so on their label. Later, they realized that they didn't care for the administrative overhead involved with keeping the certification, so they bailed on it. It's the same story I hear from many, many winegrowers.

                                                                              2. I discovered Lolonis organic wines (Redwood Valley in Mendocino county) several years ago at a Mill Valley wine festival and thought they were very good. I've had them a few times since and always liked them but haven't had them recently. They would be well worth trying.


                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                1. re: Mick Ruthven

                                                                                  An update on Lolonis wine promoted by Maria Lorranie's question below. Lolonis grows their fruit organically, but does not use organic winemaking methodology. Their website says "While the essence of Lolonis wines - the fruit - is organic, you may notice the bottle is not labeled “organic wine.” This is no accident. In our experience, the organic winemaking methodology makes a wine that is unstable, and its quality is often suspect."


                                                                                2. If your experience of organic wine is uniformly "bad," then you haven't yet experienced some of the world's greatest wines, which just happen to be organic.

                                                                                  For example:
                                                                                  -Storybrook Mountain (zinfandel, meritage, viognier)
                                                                                  -Tablas Creek (Rhone white and red varietals from Central Coast)
                                                                                  -Many Chateauneuf du Papes including Vieux Telegraph
                                                                                  -Moon Mountain - Sonoma based cab, cab franc, etc.

                                                                                  All of these farmers that I know could care less about the Organic designation as they do about the care and feeding of the soil and all around best environment to grow great grapes. Many organic practices just simply make better wine.

                                                                                  The Burgundian winemakers were famous for blowing out their soil with fertilizers and pesticides in the 60s and 70s, only to realize that taking it easy on the chemicals was a great idea.

                                                                                  9 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: stalkingwine.com

                                                                                    <<If your experience of organic wine is uniformly "bad," then you haven't yet experienced some of the world's greatest wines, which just happen to be organic.??

                                                                                    Organically grown or organically made wines?

                                                                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                      You refer to organically made or organically vinified wines, but this really just exposes a weird terminological problem in American English. If a winemaker uses only organic sugar in their chapitalisation, the result is a wine that is not naturally made, but how on earth is it less organic? I think the distinction in French terminology makes infinite more sense: agricultural products are issued from organic or conventional production; wine-making techniques are natural or not.

                                                                                      The problem of course is the FDA's embracing of organic+natural=organic, organic+manipulated=/=organic. But I don't see why one needs to accept that strange conflation, which basically says that only non-manipulated wines are Really Organic, in conversation about wine. All it does is encourage further misunderstandings on the part of those who only read part of the conversation.

                                                                                      1. re: tmso

                                                                                        It seems to me that the issue begins with the commonly understood definition of 'organic' as being grown or produced 'naturally', without the use or addition of chemicals. Even though sulfites are a natural element of wine fermentation, the addition of man-made sulfites as stabilizers makes the use of the word 'organic' problematic with wine.

                                                                                        Example: While there is only a small percentage of the population for whom sulfite sensitivity is a serious medical issue, it would seem important that they be able to rely on the word 'organic' to mean what it means most commonly. The labeling rules need to be very specific in the interest of people who actually read them for health reasons.

                                                                                        1. re: Midlife

                                                                                          Sulfur is used in organic agriculture, I don't see why one would object to its use in an organic wine. Sulfur, chapitalisation, filtering, and more, are all manipulative techniques that clearly render a wine not "natural", but except for saying "that's what the FDA requires" (and it's a bizarre exception to the global rule here), I don't see why that would necessarily make a wine less organic.

                                                                                          1. re: tmso

                                                                                            The difference between the US and European definitions of the terms here is probably going to hang up any discussion.

                                                                                            1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                              «The difference between the US and European definitions of the terms here is probably going to hang up any discussion.»

                                                                                              Yes, which makes the title of this thread all the more unfortunate.

                                                                                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                I agree, but that was kind of my point. In discussion of things like, "why are organic wines bad?" I think it would be more useful to use terms like "natural production" rather than "organic vinification" precisely because of the disconnect between the terminology of different parts of the winemaking world. I do think that US organic wines are generally undrinkable, and yet so many of the best wines are either biologique or öko.

                                                                                              2. re: tmso

                                                                                                Not only in organic agriculture: sulfur is also acceptable in biodynamics as well.

                                                                                                My personal rule: any technology that is 100+ years old is OK with me.

                                                                                                1. re: RicRios

                                                                                                  Sulfur may not be great for the environment in high doses, as a new study of Napa region shows. BUT...oh well...it would be great if we could just stop the wineries from spewing 400,000 pounds of Roundup into California's ecosystems every year.

                                                                                      2. Organic means many things. In the rest of the world, it simply means organically grown. Many of Napa's finest superpremium Cabs - Spottswoode, Chappellet, and more - are organically grown.

                                                                                        In the U.S. organically grown wines can be legally labeled Made with Organic Grapes if the winery chooses to also make the wine in a certified facility.

                                                                                        What the USDA calls Organic Wine in the U.S. requires no added sulfite, basically. This is what a very few non-premium wineries like Frey, DiRocca, Badger Mountain and others offer and it is not generally great.

                                                                                        However organically grown wines are FANTASTIC.

                                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                                        1. re: organicwineuncorked

                                                                                          What you're describing is why Cotturi Winery product, thought it's made from organically grown grapes and has no added sulfites.................. is not labeled as such. The only way you'd know is that there's no "contains sulfites" statement on the bottle. From what I've learned, the reason is that they make very good wine (if maybe a bit full-bodied and somewhat unstable) and don't want to be associated with what is generally much poorer quality. Just my 2¢.