With the various regulations in different parts of the world, certified Organic Wine sold in the US fall into two categories, both of which are made with 100% USDA Certified Organically Grown Grapes. A third category of organically produced wine is Biodynamic wine, certified by Demeter.
Organic Wine (sometimes referred to as NSA or No Sulfites Added)
This is predominantly domestic wine, as most international winemakers consider that a small amount of sulfites are needed to preserve the freshness of a wine intended for intercontinental export. Some imported wines fall in this category, most of these examples being “natural wine”, or wine not intended for a wider commercial distribution.
Wine made with Organic Grapes
As with Organic Wine, 100% of the grapes used to produce the wine in this category must be certified. The addition of a small amount of sulfites is allowed to preserve the freshness, but may not exceed 100 ppm (compared to 350 ppm in conventional wine). This category includes the majority of imported organic wines, as many winemakers believe that a small amount of sulfites are necessary to guarantee the freshness of the wine during shipping. Some wines produced with organically grown grapes have a sulfite level slightly above the USDA criteria. These wines are therefore not be labelled as "Wine made with Organic Grapes", but the farming, the production, and the mindset of the winemaker may still be equally rigid, and fully committed to the organic philosophy. These wines may list the organic ingredients on the back label: “Ingredients: organic grapes…"
Biodynamic farming dates back to the 1920s, when Austrian Rudolph Steiner developed methods for agriculture and livestock management, and is considered one of the first forms of modern organic farming.
Biodynamic wines employ organic practices, as they do not use pesticides and other chemical intervention. As an example, biodynamic farming depends on compost rather than industrial fertilizers. The majority of these wines are, therefore, also organic in practice. In addition, biodynamic farming is based around a specific astronomic calendar, with the aim for the wine to be made in harmony with earth’s cycles.
Biodynamic wine, in general certified by Demeter, may contain up to 100 ppm of sulfites (same level as “Wine made with Organic Grapes”).
Beyond organics is where sustainability comes into play, with resource management in the vineyard and in the winery. In many ways, sustainable viticulture goes beyond the USDA Organic process, as it considers the whole farm as well as the environmental impact on the local ecosystems. This includes water conservation, energy conservation, the effects of agriculture on air quality, the carbon footprint of wine packaging, recycling, sound business practices, community relations, and the health and well-being of the workers who operate in the vineyards and wineries. However, the regulations with regards to pesticides and herbicides in the vineyard, as well as sulfites in the winemaking, are less strict than those of organic wine.
There is a number of certifications for sustainable viticulture in the US and throughout the world. A few examples include Certified California Sustainable Vineyard and Winery (CCSW), SIP Certified, LIVE Certified, and VIVA Certified.