Organic wine makes up only two percent of the overall wine market in the US, but is emerging as the fastest growing wine category, as case volume grew by 10 percent in 2016, five times the average for regular wine.
The growth, however, hasn’t come easy. Katrina Frey of Frey Vineyards and Phil LaRocca of LaRocca Vineyards spearheaded the first certified organic vineyards in the country, and will be sharing their stories on the challenges faced in producing organic wine as part of an educational session at next weeks’ Organic Grower Summit, “Giving Organic Beverages A Shot.”
Katrina Frey of Frey Vineyards
“There was a taste stigma that was hard to overcome. Back in the 1980’s there was some really bad organic wine out there. Everyone was trying to figure out how to make good wine without sulfur dioxide," Frey recalled.
LaRocca Vineyards is the largest producer of bulk organic wines in the nation, growing over 300 percent the last four years. LaRocca agrees with Frey that consumer acceptance for organic wines has taken awhile to gain traction. ”In the beginning organic beverages were neglected, and organic grape growing was frowned on in academic circles. They said it was impossible to do, that you couldn’t make a good organic wine. Over the years we proved them wrong and we are seeing steady growth now,“ he said.
Phil LaRocca of LaRocca Vineyards
Under current standard, The USDA organic seal can only be applied to wine made with 100 percent organic grapes and organic materials, with no additional materials. The “made with organic” label must use 100 percent certified organic grapes and no more than 25% other additives.
“Alcohol doesn’t have an ingredient panel like other products”, Frey said, “as lobbying over the years prevented a mandatory ingredient panel. There is a list of 80 chemicals used in the conventional wine industry including nutrients, colors, stabilizers and acids.”
According to CCOF the number of certified organic wine grape acres increased by 15 percent between 2016-2017. But converting to organic isn’t as easy. “The hardest think for people converting to organic is controlling weeds. It’s more time consuming than spraying Roundup, but it can be done – it’s a mindset, LaRocca said. “On the bright side we have organic botanical fungicides that work better than conventional.”
The future is bright for organic wine, Frey said, as more growers switch from conventional. “The producer of Trader Joe’s Two Buck Chuck is converting 5000 acres to CCOF certification and replacing glyphosate with an organic product. There is a sea change coming that will create increased demand for organic beverages.”