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Should added sulfites be allowed in organic wines?

Some leading environmentalists in the wine industry are asking the federal government to allow sulfites to be added to wines labeled organic, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times.

Currently, for a wine to be labeled "USDA organic," it may not contain added sulfites. The chemical occurs in small amounts naturally in wines but is considered by many vintners to be an indispensable preservative.

Sulfites arrest fermentation at the desired time, and may also be added to prevent spoilage and oxidation at several stages of winemaking.

"It's extremely difficult to make high-quality wine without adding sulfites," the story quoted Andy Waterhouse, chair of the UC Davis department of viticulture and enology. "The smallest amount of mold on the grapes would cause the flavor to be different."

As a result, other eco-friendly wine labels, which may have weak or even no official standards, have filled the void - including biodynamic, sustainable and "natural" wine.

"Wine drinkers looking for a healthful, green product face confusing choices, and wineries can claim they're eco-friendly without anyone really checking," the story said.

Writer W. Blake Gray noted that several winemakers who are marketing USDA organic wines are campaigning to maintain the current standards.

"Most of the 8,000-year history of winemaking appears to be from naturally farmed, organically grown grapes without sulfites added," the story quoted winemaker Paul Frey.

Brian Fitzpatrick sells organic wines and vinegars. (Photo: B. Dawson)
Brian Fitzpatrick sells organic wines and vinegars. (Photo: B. Dawson)

Posted on Thursday, January 6, 2011 at 8:54 AM

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