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Organic Consumers Association

U.S. and Europe Have Different Definitions of Organic Wine

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's All About Organics page and our Safeguard Organic Standards page.
What is the difference between certified "organic" wine and wine "made with organic grapes" in the United States? As far as the contents, added sulfites-up to 100 parts per million, or 1/2000th of an ounce in a glass-and that's it. But on the label, only the former can display the easy-to-understand, green USDA Organic seal that helps producers attract customers seeking "green" products. The distinction has sparked a battle between winemakers over what organic wine should be.

The U.S. standards differ from new rules in the European Union, which as of the 2012 harvest will allow winemakers to use the label "organic wine." (Previously, only "wine made from organic grapes" was permitted.) In early February, an EU committee agreed upon standards for organic winemaking practices-including the allowed addition of some sulfites.

Due to the discrepancy, "organic wine" has been left on unequal footing in a three-year trade agreement, signed Feb. 15, recognizing the U.S. and EU organics programs as equivalent. Most products certified in either the United States or European Union can be marketed as organic in both places starting June 1, eliminating the need to get a second set of certifications. American "made with organic grapes" wines can soon be sold as organic in Europe, but European "organic wine" bottlings with added sulfites will still need to carry the "made with organic grapes" label in American markets. (The same problem persists in U.S. agreements with Canada, which has allowed added sulfites in organic wine since 2009).

"If we could put everyone into the same category who is using 100 percent organic grapes, there could have been about 800 more winemakers around the world who could get into the U.S. market and use the USDA organic seal," said Paolo Bonetti, president of Organic Vintners, a Colorado-based importer who feels the National Organic Program's labeling regulations for wine are confusing consumers and stunting growth. With more volume, it would be easier for retailers to devote a section to organic wines.


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