Why an Organic Approach Leaves a Slim Margin For Error

Want to put the certified organic logo on your wines? 

Brace yourself for an arduous process, then. It goes far beyond what one must do to claim being “sustainable,” said Randy Meyer, winemaker for BARRA of Mendocino and Girasole Vineyards in Mendocino County, California.

Federal standards for certified organic produce — including grapes — involve growing on soil that has been free of prohibited substances for three years before harvest to ensure that the crops will not be contaminated. It’s focused on the conservation of resources, but qualifying as certified organic also includes regulations for organic processed products, including prohibiting artificial preservatives, flavors, and dyes.

That means no commercial fertilizers or pesticides on the farming side, and only a very small amount of sulfites in wines — under 100 parts per million. But BARRA adheres to those rules — among others — and gets to display the California Certified Organic Farming logo on its bottles.

“We are allowed to add a little bit so that we can at least have drinkable wines that are safe, sound, and healthy, and that’s difficult to do with zero sulfites,” said Meyer during the interview for the July/August Vintner Magazine cover story. “But when there are flaws in the bottle, it’s very tough.”

The difficulty with having limited access to sulfites can arise when fixes have to be made to the wine.

“Ninety percent of the time we have acclimated to using fewer sulfites and there are a lot of techniques that can lower usage rate, but when you have a problem it can be tough,” Meyer said. “When you need sulfur dioxide to solve problems it can get in the way of curing some ills.

“So you’ve got to be in prevention mode when you’re making organic wine. It’s like with doctors. You’ve got one doctor who is great at keeping you healthy and you’ve got one who is an amazing brain surgeon who can get in there and fix things. You’ve got to be a preventative doctor — or winemaker — more than someone who is a solver/fixer.”

But being organic helps BARRA stand out in a crowded market, Meyer said.

“It sets us apart from the rest,” Meyer said. “Thankfully, the younger generation may not be flocking to tasting rooms, but they love organic farm-to-table foods and knowing where their food comes from. The organics are more front and center now because there is more of an appreciation for them. We stand to benefit from that.”

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