Wine offers both health risks and health benefits. Naturally, if you’re a frequent wine drinker, you’re probably concerned with minimizing the risks and maximizing the benefits of the wine you drink. It goes without saying that you want to do so without sacrificing flavor, aroma or any of the other characteristics that make wine so enjoyable.
Among wine connoisseurs, a topic that comes up for frequent discussion is whether or not organic wine is healthier than its conventionally produced counterpart. This has proven to be a controversial issue; you’ll find wine experts who claim it is healthier, and others who insist it is not. We’ve sorted through the arguments on both sides, and after weighing the evidence, we believe that organic wine is definitely healthier. We’ll share some compelling reasons to support our belief that organic wine, is, indeed healthier for the people who drink it– and that it is also a healthier choice for the people who grow the wine grapes and produce the wine itself.Grapes Are Treated With High Levels of Pesticides
Every year, the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization, composes a list of fruits and vegetables that are most heavily contaminated with pesticide residues. They compile the list using data that’s mainly taken from official US government sources such as the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) and the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration.) They call this list the “Dirty Dozen”. In 2015, grapes were ranked #5 on the Dirty Dozen list, meaning that they were the fifth most highly contaminated item out of all the different varieties of produce the group analyzed.
In an interview posted on the Pesticide Action Network’s North American website, wine expert Veronique Raskin weighed in on the issue. Raskin’s family has owned a winery in the South of France for more than two centuries, since 1791. Her role in the operation: she is CEO, owner and founder of the Organic Wine Company, a San Francisco based retail operation that distributes both her family’s wines and other organic wines to the public in North America.According to Raskin, the Environmental Working Group’s data refers to table grapes, and she pointed out that
“… wine grapes receive even heavier applications of pesticides than table grapes.”
In order to reduce pesticide exposure, the Environmental Working Group recommends that consumers buy the organic version of any items noted on the Dirty Dozen list. This is because pesticide exposure has been linked with health problems such as cancer, degenerative diseases, cognitive disorders and children’s behavioral problems.
Cognitive disorders are a particularly relevant topic for wine drinkers, and even more so for growers of wine grapes. According to the French government, there’s a clear connection between Parkinson’s disease and the pesticides sprayed on wine grapes. This connection was discovered and publicized in 2012, after significant numbers of French vineyard workers had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
A study posted at the National Center for Biotechnology Information also mentions this implication. According to the NCBI website,
“Pesticide exposure may also be associated with increased risk of Parkinson disease; several classes of pesticides, including insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides, have been implicated.”
Beyond the issue of avoiding pesticides, organic produce also offers the benefit of higher antioxidants and other nutrients. Studies have shown that organic produce is more nutritious and contains more antioxidants than conventionally farmed produce. Since antioxidants are one of the purported health benefits of wine, this is an important consideration when trying to determine whether organic wine is a better choice overall.
Sulfites in Wine
A small minority of wine drinkers are either allergic to sulfites, or sensitive to them. Sulfite sensitivity is sometimes an issue for asthma sufferers as well.
For people who suffer from sulfite allergies or sensitivities, organic wine is clearly the healthier choice. This is because organic standards mandate lower levels of sulfites in wine that is certified organic.
Since organic certifications differ depending on country and certifying agency, it gets a bit tricky to clarify exactly how many sulfites are allowed. In the USA, a USDA certified organic wine must not contain any added sulfites. There are not many vintners offering wines under this certification.
However, it’s important to point out that there’s also such a thing as “wine grown from certified organic grapes.” A wine bearing this certification can have higher sulfite content. The main element differentiating this type of wine from conventional wine isn’t the sulfites; it’s that the grapes are grown without synthetic pesticides.
In some other parts of the world, certified organic wine is permitted to have a sulfite limit of only 100 parts per million, as compared to an allowance for 350 parts per million for conventionally produced wines.Another Wine Expert Weighs In
Recently this topic came up for discussion in a post at the Food Network Blog, where Kiri Tannenbaum interviewed Joe Campanale to find out his point of view on the issue. Campanale is executive beverage director of the Epicurean Management Company, a group whose portfolio includes several prominent Italian restaurants in New York City.
In the interview, Campanale stated,
“I believe that organic wines are better for the planet, better for you and can taste more distinctive.”
He was quick to add that not all organic wines are great, but of course, that goes without saying. We’ll respond by pointing out the obvious corollary: not all non-organic wines are great, either.
In conclusion, we definitely recommend that wine drinkers choose organic wines as the healthier alternative to their conventionally grown counterparts.
- At the Environmental Working Group’s Website: The Dirty Dozen List for 2015 — Fruits and Vegetables Contaminated With the Highest Amounts of Pesticide Residue. See Also: Executive Summary
- At the Pesticide Action Network Website: Pesticide Data for Napa County and Sonoma County in California, Two Prominent Regions Where Wine Grapes Are Grown
- At the Pesticide Action Network, North America Website: A Conversation With Veronique Raskin, Discussing Pesticides in Wine and Other Relevant Topics
- At the Organic Wine Company Website: The Company History
- At the National Center for Biotechnology Information Website: Association of Pesticide Exposure with Neurologic Dysfunction and Disease
- At EatingOrganic.us: Organic Food Is More Nutritious Than Conventionally Farmed Food
- At the Organic Wine Company Website: Sulfites in Wine — The Facts
- A the Cleveland Clinic Website: Sulfite Sensitivity
- At the Food Network Blog: Is Organic Wine Better for You?
- At the Epicurean Management Webiste: Joe Campanales Bio and the Group’s Restaurant Portfolio