Scitech | Under the scope: Fermenting on organic purchases

Breaking down the wine-making process and its organic alternative

You may have noticed a new label on the bottle next to that cheap sludge you usually buy at the SAQ. As students begin to pay the extra few pennies for that jar of organic tomato sauce, organic beverages are gaining their rightful position in the market. Organic wineries are sprouting up all across Canada. According to the Pacific Agricultural Certification Society most of them are situated in British Columbia, although, a few are popping up in Niagara, Ontario and in the Eastern Townships of Quebec.

But what is organic wine, and why should consumers fork over extra cash for a certification sticker? The processes of making organic wine and regular wine are similar, but some minor differences are key. In regular winemaking, the first step is to collect the grapes and cut them up into smaller pieces. Then, all the chopped up grapes are placed into a fermenter where a syrup will eventually form. The mixture is covered and left to ferment for 24-hours, after which chemicals are added to sterilize the mixture. Once wine yeast is added, the new mixture must ferment for about a week. The next step includes removing the pulp from the mixture and siphoning it into another fermenter. An air lock is attached and filled halfway with water, then the wine is left to ferment for four to six weeks. Finally, once the wine mixture is completely clear, the sediment is siphoned out and the wine is bottled.

The difference between regular wine-making and organic wine-making boils down to two practices – those of the vineyard, and those of the winery. Much like any other farming product, grapes from a vineyard are considered organic if they are grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides. As far as winery practice is concerned, the details for certification are slightly more contested.

According to John Henning, an Associate Professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics at McGill, organic certification places limits on the amount of sulphates that can be used to help the fermentation process of the grapes.

“Some organic winemakers don’t use [sulphates] at all, so the level of sulphite will be much lower, but there will always be some [sulphates] due to the fermentation process,” he said.

According to Henning, the purpose of lowering the amount of sulphates is that the sulphites produced through fermentation may present health concerns for consumers. “It doesn’t present a huge health risk, but some people can have serious reactions [to it],” he said.

Aside from the advantages organic wines present for one’s health, connoisseurs argue that the organic wine-making process allows for a purer taste of the grape. For those who enjoy very fruity wines this may be desirable, as the fruit flavour would be more prominent in an organic wine. As far as I’m concerned, the advantages seem to outweigh the cost tremendously. Although it may be tempting to reach for the cheap bottle that will dye your teeth red, consider spending the few extra dollars on organic wine.