So You Want To Be A Waiter

The best book on waiting tables that you have never read – yet

Wine post for the 1st of the month

Organic wines.

Some people really want them. So, the question is, which, if any, are on my wine list so that I can look like an expert and suggest one when someone asks?

First of all, what does the term “organic wine” really mean?

First of all, what doesn’t it mean?

It doesn’t mean “no sulfites”. All wines have sulfites to one degree or another. Only when the levels exceed 10+ ppm does a label have to have the warning, “Contains sulfites”. What are sulfites, you ask?  Don’t worry about it. If you’re sensitive to them, you’ll know it. However, if you really must know, they are a naturally-occuring byproduct of the fermentation process called sulfur dioxide. Some winemakers add additional amounts during the winemaking process because SO2 is handy as an anti-microbial agent and helps keep the nasties down. The downside to this is that some people are sensitive to this compound and get reactions as varied as headaches, flushed faces and rashes.

Organic winemakers don’t add any additional sulfites. Simple as that.

There are varying levels of organic. It can be as simple as not using any “non-natural pesticides” (there are things like Neem oil that have natural repellant properties that one might use) or any commercial chemical fertilizers, additives or other possibly harmful chemicals or unneccesary filtering of the wine or as complex as creating a whole natural ecosystem featuring beneficial insects, microbacteria, watershed management and a reduction in the use of highly automated processing equipment.  This is called “biodynamic”.

How do you know which approach is taken by specific wine operations? You really don’t unless you do some research on your own. Those wineries who have set up elaborate micro-ecosystems are rightly proud of the time, money and effort put into their property and their product so they are likely to give you all the information that you’ll ever need.

From the Organic Consumers Organization  (this tells you the different classifications of organic labeling):

“Along came the National Organic Program (NOP), also part of the USDA. The NOP’s goal has been to set guidelines for the processing and labeling of organic products and to maintain the “National List” of allowed and prohibited substances. According to the NOP and the ATF who have stated that all label approvals filed with them must comply with the USDA relating to the NOP, there are four categories that organic wines can claim: 100% Organic, Organic, Made With Organic Ingredients, and Some Organic Ingredients. Today, these categories define organic wine so understanding the differences among the four categories is important if you want to know what you are really buying”.

Keep in mind that “organic” is as much a legal term as it is a description of the end product. You have to meet certain criteria and pay certain fees to be able to legally claim your product as organic. There are my fine “natural wines” that are just as “organic” (and perhaps more so than some organics) whose winemakers choose not to get certified as organic.

A common misconception is that if a wine isn’t filtered, it must be organic. Not true. An unfiltered wine simply means that it hasn’t been filtered. Most organic wines use the least amount of filtration possible. They also avoid fining, which is using animal products such as bladders or egg whites to drag suspended particles to the bottom of the vat, where they can be siphoned off. If your guest is a vegan, this will be of concern to them, but really, it’s sort of up to them to know which winemakers forbid fining in their products. I’m not sure if fining is specifically forbidden in an “organic wine” – perhaps I’ll do some more research on that one. If anyone has the answer, feel free to let me know but include a good source for verification.

The main thing for you as a server is to have a short list of “go-tos” relevant to your list. The less you fumble around tring to give an answer, the more confident your guest will be in your competence, and this will hopefully result in a better tip for you and a better dining experience for your guest. 

I obviously don’t have your wine list in front of me, so I’m going to list some major players in the field. This is a very short list. You can google to find other brands and you can ask your wine buyer to keep you up-to-date with any bottles that fall into the categories or characterizations that I’ve talked about. “No sir, we don’t have any “certified organic” wines, but we have this Robert Mondavi Cabernet that comes from a winery using strong natural practices. In fact, they were one of the pioneers in sustainability and ecologically sound practices”. You know – that sort of thing.

ORGANIC WINERIES (including all categories of organic)

Bonterra. One of the pioneers in the field: www.bonterra
Spottswoode. A classic maker of upscale wines, especially Cabernet Sauvignon: www.spottswoode.com
Robert Sinskey: They do Biodynamic and Organic: www.robertsinskey.com

WINERIES USING “NATURAL” PRACTICES
Robert Mondavi Winery: http://www.robertmondaviwinery.com
  

WINERIES USING SUSTAINABILITY PRACTICES

Wente Vineyards: http://www.wentevineyards.com/
Beringer Winery: http://www.beringer.com (this applies mainly to their upscale products)

As I said, this is a very short list, but it’s enough to get you started. Use the internet  and your wine rep as a resource. The more you know, the better prepared you’ll be when someone says, “I only drink organic wines. Have any”?

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