Organic wines, biodynamic wines and other sustainable and low-intervention wines are often lauded for their benefits to the environment compared to the widespread industrial, high-intervention wine making that floods the market today. But does it have other benefits - to our health?
Pesticides, Fungicides, Herbicides
One of organic wine's most specific impacts is in avoiding chemical interventions. Pesticides, herbicides and fungicides can be a cause for health concern. There are some well known dangerous chemical such as the herbicide glyphosate which are still in use in many countries, and many others whose health impacts area unknown. Although glyphosate will eventually be phased out across the EU as it has been linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, fertility and reproduction concerns, it is very much still commonplace.
Many of the chemicals used in industrial farming don't make it to the final glass, and those that do are in small amounts. A French study by Pascal Chatonnet tested 300 wines from the Bordeaux, Rhone, and Aquitaine regions, and found up to 90% of the wines contained pesticide residues. Although Chatonnet makes it clear that the molecules of pesticides did not exceed a toxic threshold, he was appalled by the lack of research on the accumulation risk. While pesticide limits are set by the EU for grapes, normal wines don’t have any limits at all. And although the risk of transfer into wine is low, the implications include disruptions to our gut health.
Sulphites lie at the centre of a myth that they cause headaches and make hangovers worse - you can read more about sulphites in another blog. It is important for about 1% of the population who are allergic to sulphites, and will want low sulphite content in their wine. To the remaining 99%, sulphites are naturally occurring or artificially as a preservatives, extending shelf lives and also add to wine flavour profiles. Still, organic wines must typically be below 100ppm sulphites, whereas regular wines can contain 220ppm and 350ppm in the EU and USA.
If you are allergic to sulphite, bottles may indicate an average sulphite content on the label. You can also opt for red wines, which are lower in sulphites, as the higher alcohol and tannin content already act as natural preservatives.
Now let’s take a look at wine additives. Additives in wines can help to prevent spoilage or contamination from unwanted particles. Corrective additives are concerned with managing colour, clarity, and acidity. Fining agents (removing grape particles or cloudiness from the wine) are not harmful to your health, but keep an eye out if you’re vegan as they can include egg whites (or albumen protein), isinglass (dried fish bladder), gelatin, or trypsin and pepsin from pig or cow sources. While organic wines still use some fining agents to clarify the wines, you can always opt for wines that are specifically vegan as they use non-animal fining agents, or natural wines (which don’t fine at all).
Resveratrol is a polyphenol compound found in red wine that has antioxidant properties and has been investigated for possible anticarcinogenic effects and anti-inflammatory properties. It may also lower cholesterol and aid arterial damage. It’s the main reason for some doctors recommending a little red wine, so we love Resveratrol! And here's the organic benefit: conventional wines are 80% lower in Resveratrol than organic wines.
The final word on organic wine and health
To recap: yes, organic wine is better for you in terms of sulphite content, pesticide, herbicide and fungicide use, as well as increased Resveratrol levels. While these health effects simply coincide with more sustainable practices, it’s just another reason to start drinking organic for the planet!