What do you think of when you see the word “organic” in the supermarket? Healthier might come to mind, maybe — or natural, or free of pesticides. To some extent, these are all arguably correct for produce, such as lettuce or tomatoes. For wine, however, in general, it is a bit more complicated.
The first clarification that needs to be explained is the difference between growing grapes organically and making organic wine.
n Growing grapes using sustainable organic practices is wonderful. It is better for the environment and better for the grapes.
n Making organic wine means eliminating the use of sulfites, which is problematic.
Eliminating sulfites means that the wine is not going to be able to age, because without sulfites, bacteria can and will grow in your bottle of wine. Hallcrest Vineyards makes some organic wines, and even the staff will tell you that the wine should be drunk within a few months of buying it. That means that a fine wine cannot be organic, because wine without sulfites cannot be aged.
Another notable topic specific to the Santa Cruz Region is whether a vineyard is “certified” organic. The process to become certified organic can be painstaking and loaded with red tape. Not to mention, it is relatively expensive. There are many vineyards in Santa Cruz that are certainly organic but are not able to advertise it, because they are not certified by the government. Some wineries in Santa Cruz produce such a small amount that it isn’t worth the time or money to become certified, even though they do meet the requirements.
A couple of noteworthy local organic vineyards are Alfaro Vineyards and Vine Hill Winery. Vine Hill even has a sign as you approach the property that no chemicals should enter the vineyard.
For more information on organic vineyards in California, visit www.organicwineexchange.com, an informative site that helps map out which wineries have which organic processes.
Austin Twohig is a certified sommelier and partner in The Santa Cruz Experience, which conducts winery tours in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.