Growing grapes is not as easy as it may seem. Grapes are prone to mildew, pests, and disease so growers who are not organic, typically apply vineyard chemicals.
Conventional and sustainable growers use:
• Herbicides that are carcinogens (Roundup, glyphosate and more)
• Fungicides that are bird and bee toxins and neurotoxins
Until recently, many people did not realize that herbicide residues were in wine.
Thanks to more precise testing that measures residues to the parts per billion, it's clear that the chemicals applied in the vineyard make their way into the wine.
Is that harmful for consumers? The latest medical research (by Michael Antoniou of Kings College London (photo, left and 2016 video here) found that when herbicides are consumed, they affect the bacteria in your stomach and impact the liver or kidney.
Gut bacterial imbalances have been linked to cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and depression. Recently, scientists found that patients with a serious liver disease all had high levels of glyphosate in their bodies.
While glyphosate consumption has risen dramatically over the last 25 years, most of the rise comes from eating non-organic oats, wheat and grain products. But beverages like wine are also a source.
Fungicides were also once thought to "disappear." But scientists have now found that residues also remain in wine.
Conventional or "sustainable" growers commonly use thousands of pounds of fungicides to prevent mildew.
While no one collects data on the use of these vineyard chemicals in the state of Oregon, California does collect this data.
A comparable county might be Sonoma County where Pinot Noir is the predominant grape grown. Though Sonoma has more vineyard acreage than Oregon (60,000 acres to Oregon's 36,000), here's what Sonoma growers used in 2017 (the most recent year data is available for). One can extrapolate that Oregon growers are using similar fungicides at similar rates.
• Copper*: 18,758 pounds on 37,915 acres
• Boscalid, a bee and bird toxin: nearly 10,000 pounds on 36,000 acres
• Fenhexamid: 12,000 pounds on 15,800 acres
These fungicides leave residues in the finished wine.
Organic growers (and others) often use mineral oil sprays to prevent mildew. Biodynamic growers may use silica sprays and applications of horsetail teas to combat mildew.
Data source: California Dept. of Pesticide Regulation's 2017 Pesticide Use Report
*Copper is approved for use by organic growers, but almost all the copper used in California (and the U.S.) on wine grapes comes from conventional fungicides (where it's a common ingredient).
Organic farmers try to promote diversity in their vineyards and support a variety of species.
Organic growers don't use the harsh chemicals - imidacloprid, boscalid and more - that conventional and sustainable growers do that are responsible for drastically reducing bird, bee and insect populations. Some experts have terms the insect die off "insectageddon."
A new study also found that glyphosate leaches into the water system, harming biodiversity.
In fact, Amigo Bob, a leader in organic farming (photo, left with helper), assesses the health of a vineyard by how many different types of spiders he can find.
Organically grown wines are eco-friendlier in many ways. But the biggest may be that organic vineyards store much more carbon than conventional or "sustainable" farming.
Compost is the biggest factor in this equation.
A recent U.C. Davis study found that organic farmers using compost sequestered carbon at a rate of 0.7% per year. Over the long haul, this adds up. At the Davis site, carbon sequestration increased 12% over the years.
This carbon is stored in the deeper layers of the soil.
As study author Jessica Chiartas, noted, “The soil represents a huge mass of natural resource under our feet. If we’re only thinking about farming the surface of it, we’re missing an opportunity. Carbon is like a second crop.”
It is too broad of a generalization to say that organic and biodynamically grown wines taste better.So much depends on the skill of the winemaker, in addition to the quality of the grapes.
But organic and biodynamically grown wines typically rank overdeliver in competitions like Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries and other leading markers.
UCLA researchers researchers looked the topic in a study that tried to compare wines from organic or biodynamic vines to wines from conventional or sustainable vines.
"In blind taste-tests professional wine reviewers give eco-certified wines higher ratings than regular wines."
Wine experts have recently become very interested in the relationship of the mycorrhizal fungi to flavor and taste in wines.
A new study found that herbicides kill off 53% of the mycorrhizal fungi in the soil.
These fungi provide vines with the minerals that produce wine's flavors.
But scientists say more research is needed to better understand how herbicides affect wine flavors.
Organic and biodynamically grown wines cost the same as other wines.
The difference is that, unlike food, they are often not labeled with their organic certification so it is challenging to find them. And stores often do not know who is certified organic.
It's also confusing because many of the organic producers may also buy grapes from conventional or sustainable growers and make different wines from those grapes.
We have created this site to help consumers identify which wines are from certified organic vines.
Join us. See sample content here.