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What 'Organic' Actually Means for Wine

What 'Organic' Actually Means for Wine

Everyone from winemakers to the sales clerks at Whole Foods is talking about "green" wine and it can get confusing. So we’re here to break it down for you. Any wine made in an environmentally responsible manner can be called "green," but there are a few actual certifications that can make that term more meaningful. Here they are:

Organic: This term can apply to the grape-growing process (no chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides or genetic engineering are used) or the winemaking process (no preservatives are used, such as sulfur dioxide). There are several organic certification programs in the U.S. and each one has its own rules. The "Organic" seal from the USDA promises 95 percent organic ingredients, while the "100% Organic" seal from the USDA indicates 100 percent organic ingredients. Both allow only naturally occurring sulfites in small quantities. The label "Made with Organic Grapes," means the wine contains at least 70 percent organic ingredients, and may include artificial sulfites.

Biodynamic: These wines are organic by default because biodynamic wineries approach the vines, soil and critters that live in the vineyard as parts to a whole, and no chemicals are used. Some practices include burying a cow horn full of manure over the winter then digging it up in the spring and mixing the manure with water to spray over the vineyard, and timing activities in the vineyard to the cycles of the moon. The theory was put forth by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s, and many top-tier wineries now swear by the practice.

Sustainable: A sustainable wine may or may not be organic. The word means that the wine is produced in a manner that allows for healthy future production of grapes and wine, which often involves preventing soil erosion, avoiding harsh chemicals and water pollution. There are sustainable wine certification programs in many states, so check online for each state’s specific guidelines.

Fish-Friendly: There are many organizations dedicated to preserving the health of local fish, such as California’s Fish Friendly Farming Program, which protects steelhead trout and Coho salmon in Northern California, or Salmon-Safe in Oregon, Washington and California. One of these labels on a bottle means that the winery works to improve water quality and the wildlife habitat on its property.

The U.S. has made huge strides in "green" wine over the past two decades, and the movement is still gaining momentum. However, we are still far behind some other countries, such as New Zealand, where an incredible 94 percent of the vineyards are independently certified as "sustainable" (for comparison, 12 percent of California’s vineyards are currently certified as "sustainable"). Help support the "green" wine movement by picking up a bottle of one of our favorites today:

1. BONTERRA Viognier 2011(Mendocino County, Calif.) $16 (100 percent Organic)
2. VILLA MARIA ESTATE "Private Bin" Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (Marlborough, New Zealand) $14.99 (ISO Certified Sustainable)
3. PONZI VINEYARDS Pinot Noir 2010 (Willamette Valley, Oregon) $35 (Salmon-Safe certified, LIVE Sustainable certified)

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Is Organic Food Better for You?

You're trying to eat healthy, and you know that means choosing plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. But as you wander the aisles of your local market, checking out the fresh produce, meats, and dairy products, you realize there's another choice to make: Should you buy organic?

Advocates say organic food is safer, possibly more nutritious, and often better tasting than non-organic food. They also say organic production is better for the environment and kinder to animals.

And more and more shoppers seem convinced. Even though organic food typically costs more --sometimes a lot more -- sales are steadily increasing.

"We've had a strong 20%-a-year growth rate since 1990," says Katherine DiMatteo, executive director of the Organic Trade Association (OTA). She also says more land is going into organic production all the time -- up to 2.35 million acres in 48 states as of 2001.

But many experts say there's not enough evidence to prove any real advantage to eating organic foods.


"There's really very limited information in people on actual health outcomes with consumption of these products," says David Klurfeld, PhD, chairman of the department of Nutrition and Food Science at Wayne State University in Detroit. "We don't know enough to say that one is better than the other."

So before you decide whether organic food is worth the price of admission, let's take a look at the issues.

Everything You Need to Know about Natural, Organic, and Biodynamic Wines

Seven years into working in the wine industry, sommelier Melissa Gisler Modanlou began to really learn about wine. And more specifically, about all the stuff that can go into wine. The flavor manipulators. The coloring agents. The stabilizers.

Modanlou was pregnant with her second child and had just sold both her restaurant and her wine shop. She started to become “hypercritical about ingredients” in her food, her cosmetics, and, then, her wine. “I got so pissed off,” she says. Why were so many additives allowed in wine? Why hadn’t she learned about them in sommelier school? “In all of that time, all of that learning, never once was there discussion about all of the things that go into wine or about farming practices,” she says.

That was more than five years ago. Since then, Modanlou hasn’t stopped learning. And asking questions. She’s researched hundreds of wines—ones that don’t have additives and are made by small producers who care about what goes into them. She learned about grape agricultural practices. She’s seen that wine doesn’t need loads of processing and manipulating to be really good.

Friends and former clients started asking about the clean wines she was sourcing for herself, and her wine subscription service and online shop, Rock Juice, was born in 2015. Through Rock Juice, Modanlou sells natural, unadulterated wines from around the globe. “I realized that there was desire for this access,” she says. “But people didn’t know how to approach it or find it themselves.”

More and more people are interested in and using the term “natural wine.” It’s a positive movement, for sure. But also one that Modanlou asks people to navigate with some shrewdness. Wine needs the same scrutiny as our food, she says. But the wine industry is unregulated. There are no labeling requirements and not much advocacy for consumers, which means there’s a lot of room for greenwashing. The term “natural wine” can be meaningless, says Modanlou. Similar to the way a face cream can be deemed natural but still contain gross ingredients, a natural wine can contain additives. “There’s no legal oversight,” she explains. “There are no standards. There are organic and biodynamic certifications, but that still doesn’t cut the whole spectrum.”

What is the whole spectrum? And where do you begin if you want to clean up the wine you drink? Ask questions and understand wine as an agricultural product, says Modanlou. This will lead to awareness, transparency, and ultimately change.

And in the meantime, there are Modanlou’s recommendations for some really good wine, ready to be poured.

A Q&A with Melissa Gisler Modanlou

I define natural wine as wine made with the least possible use of chemicals, additives, and technological tricks.

I generally start with a discussion about farming and grapes. And I bring the conversation back to thinking about wine the way you think about your food.

We know that grapes are always in the EWG’s Dirty Dozen they are one of the fruits that are the most sprayed with pesticides. And grape skins are thin and permeable, which means the chemicals can go directly into the fruit. If you think about how wine is made, the grapes are crushed and the juice macerates with the skin—for hours, days, weeks, or even months depending on what the wine is. So what you’re drinking, from the very start, could be a chemical cocktail if you’re drinking wine made of conventionally grown grapes.

Most people I know would not eat fruits or vegetables that they know are heavily sprayed, but they don’t think about wine that same way. But the thing with wine is it doesn’t stop at chemical-free farming. That is simply the most important first step.

You can have a wine that’s farmed with organic grapes, but the vintner can still add a bunch of potentially toxic ingredients and do all kinds of manipulation that can change the chemistry of the wine. There’s an entire process that happens after the grapes are brought into the cellar and before the wine ends up in the bottle. And that brings up the thing that is missing here: label transparency. We know that the personal-care industry is still rather unregulated. In the US, there are ingredients that are allowed in personal-care products that the EU doesn’t allow. But typically, with a personal-care product, at the very least you have a label, so you have some visibility into what’s in there, and you can make a more informed decision. With wine, there is no required ingredient label, so people have no idea what’s in there. I’ve learned that a lot of people assume that it is just grape juice. But there are so many different unnatural substances that are potentially in the wine you’re drinking.

There are around ninety-five ingredients that are allowed in wine. And the average bottle of wine has many more ingredients than just grapes and yeast. But again, you have no idea because there is no label. So it’s a really slippery area. And there’s a lot of brainwashing involved in the marketing. There’s a lot of money behind making us think that something may be a natural product. And it’s been hard to tell consumers to do their homework because there hasn’t really been solid information to guide them.

There are various animal by-products that are allowed, which, typically, are to finely filter the wine. These include egg whites, fish bladder, and casein. There’s a fish bladder product called isinglass that’s commonly used. Some other common additives include tartaric acid, sugars, coloring, flavoring, and various things to stabilize, preserve, and minimize the bacteria growth. Velcorin is one example.

You have to consider that if you love to drink wine, these additives could be building up in your system. There have been more studies recently measuring the glyphosate content in wine.

And then there is the yeast. Often winemakers will add a commercial yeast that is made from a genetically modified yeast strain.

These can be really confusing. For organic certification in the US, there are two levels. There is wine that is labeled “made with organic grapes,” and that pertains to how the grapes are farmed. That also sets a limit of one hundred parts per million of sulfites that can be added. Then there is wine that is labeled “certified organic,” and that is made with organically grown grapes and cannot have any added sulfites it can contain only naturally occurring sulfites. There’s very little organic certified wine, because even some of the very conscientious natural producers might add a trace amount of sulfur if they feel like the wine needs that. And that would mean it would not be allowed to be certified organic.

Again, these rules are according to the FDA and just in the US. And for reference, conventional wine is allowed up to 350 parts per million of added sulfites.

Biodynamic—a more holistic and rigorous method of farming—also has two levels. There are biodynamic certified estates and biodynamic certified wines. The way that you can tell the difference is by where the certification mark is on the label. If it’s on the front, it’s a biodynamic certified wine. If it’s on the back, it’s wine from a biodynamic certified estate or farm. This pertains mostly to agriculture. Both levels are allowed added sulfites at a maximum of one hundred parts per million. Biodynamic certification comes from the nonprofit organization Demeter International.

I still get confused by it, even as someone who deals with it in her primary business. And it’s even harder for a consumer to get their mind around it. And the agencies that certify do not have any real common agreements. And there are a lot of politics. For instance, a certified biodynamic product in Europe may not be able to bear the label here because there isn’t reciprocal certification recognition or because they haven’t paid the royalties to have the label here in the US.

It really comes down to philosophy. Biodynamic looks at the farm as a complete entity that creates all of the things it needs to support itself. A biodynamic estate looks at the holistic environment versus just the monoculture of a grape. Organic farming can just be acres and acres of grapes. A biodynamic farm could include orchards, vegetable gardens, livestock, honeybees, and other things that feed the holistic entity. So it’s taking organic farming to a new level. But the overall input into the wine doesn’t differ much between biodynamic and organic.

Exactly. The certification doesn’t look at the additives other than the sulfite level. You have to trust that somebody who’s going to the trouble of making certified organic wine isn’t going to include toxic additives. But we still don’t know for sure.

Organic Eggs vs. Free-Range Eggs vs. Vegetarian Eggs

Are organic eggs affordable? They're not cheap. Organic eggs can cost up to $4/dozen, roughly double the cost of commercial eggs. This is largely due to the extra expenses involved in meeting organic certification requirements.

Finally, be aware that free-range eggs aren't necessarily the same as organic—the USDA requires that free-range eggs come from chickens that have some access to a small, fenced patch of cement (which they may or may not use). Additionally, free-range chickens might eat non-organic feed and are sometimes given antibiotics or other drugs.

Similarly, sellers of vegetarian eggs, antibiotic-free eggs, or so-called "all-natural eggs" aren't subject to the same scrutiny as organic eggs. Since nobody's really checking, it's up to the manufacturer to set their own standards for what constitutes a vegetarian egg. As always, caveat emptor when buying eggs, since you might or might not get what's advertised.

The Truth About Organic Food

SPEAKER: Buy organic and you can get meat, dairy, and eggs free of antibiotics and growth hormones, produce without GMOs and most lab-made pesticides. But is it worth paying extra for? Here's a hearty helping of the truth.

Is organic food more nutritious for you? Probably not. For now, there isn't direct proof that it boosts your health or lowers your chances of getting diseases. Also, the Environmental Protection Agency is supposed to make sure that pesticides used on all crops are safe, not just organic.

Still, the International Agency for Research on Cancer does link some pesticides to cancer, mainly in mice and rats. And some are hazardous to animals, such as birds and fish. Also, eating meat from animals that are fed antibiotics might make these drugs less helpful at treating bacterial infections in people.

If your food is labeled "USDA Organic," does that mean it's completely organic? No, actually. That means it's about 95% organic. Food growers can add lab-made chemicals to the other 5%.

Only this logo meets government's definition of organic, but that's no guarantee it's pesticide free. Whether you buy organic or not, aim to eat a balanced diet full of lean protein, whole grains, and fruits and veggies. Bon appetit!


Frey Vineyards, Redwood Valley, California

Jonathan and Katrina Frey were among the first American winemakers to become certified organic. They continue to make organic wine at a high level today, as part of a family business. Their impact on California winegrowing cannot be overstated.

Marcel Lapierre, Beaujolais, France

American wine négociant Kermit Lynch referred to Lapierre as the brains behind the so-called “Gang of Four,” the quartet of French winemakers responsible for getting organics off the ground in the 1970s. Lapierre’s benchmark Beaujolais are pure expressions of fruit. To this day, they remain true to the tenets of organic winemaking.

What’s the Deal with Organic Bedding, and Which Brands Are Actually Worth Buying?

Maybe you&rsquore obsessed with wellness. Maybe you already eat organic and local when it comes to your food. After all, the benefits of going organic means fewer pesticides and chemicals&mdashnever a bad thing. But have you considered going organic&hellipwith your bedding? Turns out, it&rsquos not such a crazy notion after all.

&ldquoWe all try to eat organic, use clean beauty products, and take clean supplements to nurture our insides, but we tend to forget our skin is our biggest organ,&rdquo says Lauren Meichtry, founder of Elsie Home. &ldquoIf we jump into bed each night and lie on synthetic fabrics or rest our heads on synthetic pillows, aren't we being a bit hypocritical?&rdquo

Is Organic Bedding Really Better&mdashOr Is It Just the Latest Trend?

At the basic level, organic bedding is created without any harmful chemicals, such as pesticides or harsh chemical cleaners and fabric treatments, which some companies use on more traditional bedding. (For instance, &lsquowrinkle resistant&rsquo sheets are commonly treated with chemicals that release formaldehyde.) The long-term risks of exposure to things like formaldehyde are nuanced, but some studies have suggested it could be problematic.

Organic bedding can be a bit more expensive, but according to Meichtry, those few dollars saved will actually cost you more down the line. &ldquoSynthetic materials actually break down over time, so while you might save a buck or two when purchasing them, you'll likely be back at the store replacing your synthetic pillows before you know it,&rdquo she says.

So, how do you make sure you&rsquore finding the best organic bedding for you? While certain buzzwords like &lsquonatural&rsquo and &lsquopesticide-free&rsquo might make you think you&rsquore buying organic, it&rsquos important to make sure your sheets and duvets are GTOS-certified, aka, The Global Organic Textile Standard, which ensures no harmful or toxic chemicals are used throughout the entire process of turning the fiber into fabric, and means the cotton fiber was grown certified organic. If you&rsquore looking to go organic, definitely avoid &lsquowrinkle-free&rsquo products, as those have been treated with formaldehyde, and stay clear of synthetic fiber sheets such as polyester microfiber.


"Free-range" is a bit of a vague term, at least as regulated by the USDA, which calls for poultry to be "allowed access to the outside."

As you might imagine, that phrase can be interpreted generously or quite narrowly. Some farmers let their free-range chickens roam on real fields and pastures. Larger producers, however, have been known to follow only the letter of the law, not its spirit, and put an open window or small door that leads to a paved patch of ground at one end of a large, crowded hen house.

If nothing else, though, free-range poultry and eggs at least come from birds that were raised cage-free.

Nine Ridiculously Cheap Organic Dinners

We get it: Organic ingredients are effing expensive compared to their conventional counterparts. But that doesn't mean you have to settle for a plate of food you feel shitty about putting in your body&mdashjust smarten up about meal planning, instead. For example, you can swap out pricey organic meat and dairy for more cost-effective protein-packed fare like lentils, black beans, and whole grains. And never overlook the value&mdashand time savings&mdashyou can get with buying an organic frozen meal or premade ingredients, from time to time. As you'll see from the nine dinners here, cheap and organic can actually go hand in hand: All our meals ring in at less than $5 per serving. (Lose up to 15 pounds WITHOUT dieting with Eat Clean to Get Lean, our 21-day clean-eating meal plan.)

1) Mango, Avocado, and Black Bean Salad with Lime Dressing
"Organic meats are going to be expensive a pound of organic ground beef is roughly $7 at the supermarket," says Libby Mills, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "But a can of organic black beans is a mere $2. A bag of dried organic black beans? Even cheaper."

2 ripe but firm avocados, pitted, peeled, and cubed
3 Tbsp lime juice
2 ripe but firm mangoes, pitted, peeled, and cubed
1 jalapeño, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
2 Tbsp chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
1 tsp freshly grated lime zest
½ tsp sea salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp sugar
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 can (15-oz) no-salt-added black beans, rinsed and drained

1. Gently toss avocado with 1 Tbsp of the lime juice in medium bowl. Add mango and jalapeño and gently toss to combine. Set aside.
2. Whisk remaining 2 Tbsp lime juice, cilantro, lime zest, salt, pepper, and sugar in large bowl. Whisk in oil until thoroughly combined to make thick dressing. Add avocado mixture and black beans and toss gently. Spoon salad onto plates, garnish with cilantro and serve immediately.

(Recipe via Whole Foods Market)

2) Whole Grain Tabbouleh Salad
No one thinks about whole grains as a protein source, but&mdashsurprise, surprise!&mdashthey are, with 1 cup of quinoa, oats, and even whole wheat averaging about 6 g of protein (the same amount found in an egg). Even better, organic grains are super budget-friendly. Organic quinoa costs, on average, .75 per 1/4 cup serving. "Buy bulk or store-brand organic grains, and prevent overbuying for a recipe by bringing your own measuring cups to the store to measure bulk ingredients," suggests Mills.

Serves 4
Total Time: 35 minutes

1 c cooked quinoa, millet, or barley
1¾ c vegetable broth
1 lg ripe tomato, diced
½ c finely chopped cucumber
⅓ c chopped scallions
⅓ c chopped fresh mint
¼ c chopped fresh parsley and tender stems
¼ c extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1. Rinse quinoa in fine metal strainer until water runs clear. Transfer to medium saucepan. Add vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, 30 minutes. Turn off heat and let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with fork.
2. Spread quinoa onto sheet pan to cool. (You can prepare quinoa a day in advance and keep chilled until ready to use.) Transfer cool quinoa to salad or mixing bowl.
3. Add tomato, cucumber, scallions, mint, parsley, oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir well. Cover and chill before serving.

3) Green Lentil Soup
Lentils are another plant-based protein and money-saving superstar. Organic large green lentils average about $2.49 per pound. "I love this recipe because it makes a light, yet substantial dinner in a pinch," says Mills.

Makes 2 quarts

1 c green lentils
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 lg stalks celery, diced
2 med large carrots, peeled and diced
1 lg onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
1 qt vegetable or chicken broth
Pinch red-pepper flakes

1. In large pot, bring 1 qt water to a boil. Add lentils and remove from heat. Let soak for 15 minutes. Drain water and set lentils aside in bowl.
2. Return same pot to stove add oil then celery, carrots, and onion. Sauté over medium heat until vegetables are tender and onion is translucent. Add garlic, salt, pepper, and bay leaf. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.
3. Add lentils and vegetable broth. Cover and simmer over low heat, 1 hour. Ensure liquid covers lentils, adding more broth if needed. Discard bay leaf before serving.
4. Serve with red-pepper flakes and a dollop of sour cream.

For more summer flavor, add chard or spinach. Cut leaves into bite-size pieces, removing thick center veins. Add chard in the last 10 to 15 minutes of cooking time and the spinach in the last 5 minutes.

4) Vegan Zucchini-and-Cashew-Nut Stuffing
"This recipe can be enjoyed as a main course casserole with a side of cooked asparagus and fresh garden salad," says Mills. "Or used as a stuffing to baked tomatoes, baby artichokes, or mushroom caps."

Serves 8 to 12

3 c oats
2 c peeled and shredded zucchini
2 c cooked quinoa
2 c diced tomatoes
2 c diced onions
2 c vegetable broth
1 c coarsely ground raw cashew nuts
1 c minced fresh parsley
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp sea salt

Mix all ingredients and pour into 13" x 9" pan lightly coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350°F for 45 to 50 minutes.

5) Shake and Eat Salads
All you need is a mason jar and a good grip to shake up this organic meal. Sub in 2 to 3 tablespoons of salsa for the Honey Lime Cumin dressing to cut down on prep time and switch up the flavor.

1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tsp honey
2 tsp fresh lime juice
Pinch cumin

⅓ c cooked black beans or quinoa
⅓ c cooked corn kernels
1 Roma tomato, diced
1 c chopped romaine lettuce, washed and dried

Add all ingredients to mason jar. Start with dressing ingredients, then beans, corn, and tomatoes. Add lettuce last. Chill until ready to shake and eat.

6) 365 Organic Vegetable Lasagna or Vegan Lasagna ($3.99 for 1 serving)
Realistically, not everyone has time to make an elaborate, healthy meal come 8 PM. The good thing is that supermarkets like Whole Foods are stocking their freezer cases with affordable, pre-made organic dinners that are nothing like the sketchy TV dinners you ate as a kid. This lasagna is made with all organic ingredients and costs less than $4 per serving. All you need to do is heat and eat.

7) Engine 2 Plant-Strong Fiesta Blend and Wild Rice Blend ($3.99 for 3.5 servings)
This brand's frozen whole-grain combos, like the Fiesta Blend and Wild Rice Blend, cost less than $1.25 per serving. Mix into salad, sautéed greens, or pair with a small piece of protein and you've got yourself a clean, well-balanced meal that's ready to eat in less than 10 minutes.

8) 365 Organic Quinoa with Vegetables ($3.99 for 2.5 servings)
Quinoa does take a little while to cook, so no one will blame you for opting for a precooked batch every now and then. 365 Organic Quinoa with Vegetables is a mix of white and red quinoa, sweet potato, and zucchini. One serving rings up to about $1.50. Pair it with an organic turkey burger and dinner will still only set you back as much as one latte at Starbucks.

9) Amy's Black Bean Burrito ($2.99 for 1 serving)
This quick and clean source of plant-based protein (8 g per serving) will replenish your body at the end of a rough day for less than $3. Heat it up, chow down, and bask in the glory of knowing that you could have paid for this meal with the loose change you have hanging out in the junk drawer.

I am really excited about this recipe! I think that this is the answer to the problem of getting my kids to eat their green beans)

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