Drinking has always had its positive points and downsides. We’ve seen misguided legislation that only fueled the latter along with the more sobering side of the devastating effects of alcohol.
It hasn’t been an easy road but instead falls into that proverbial gray area. Even Benjamin Franklin addressed this quandary when he said,
Moderation in all things—including moderation.
Changes in technology—for good and bad—have brought us to a new place where we must ask the question again with these factors in mind.
Are natural or organic wines better for you?
Let’s set aside the official definition for the moment to consider something more fundamental, namely, the proper use of the term. It is a misnomer at best.
The definition of the term means “noting or pertaining to a class of chemical compounds that formerly comprised only those existing in or derived from plants or animals, but that now includes all other compounds of carbon.”
The chemical formula for wine fermentation is:
C6H12O6 + Yeast → 2(C2H5OH) + 2(CO2) + Heat
By that equation, it is evident that all wine is organic. It’s simply a matter of how the USDA and other government agencies regulate it.
Now, let’s think about the other aspects of wine that may affect our determination of health. I’ll consider that point both from a human physiological perspective and environmental impact.
The concerns rest with several key points:
- Consumption impacts
- Pesticide use
- Environmental effects
Drinking to excess is wrong and unhealthy. That’s a given. Alcoholism is a serious issue with consequences that affect society. But let’s focus on what it does to you.
It rocked the world when news first broke about the possibility of health benefits from drinking wine because of resveratrol. But let’s be realistic.
The initial study involved mice which doesn’t necessarily equate to humans. Even rats have a different genetic makeup than those rodents. Later evidence hasn’t established anything definitive, let alone the amount that may offer something of value.
It doesn’t matter if you buy wine labeled “Organic” or “Made with organic grapes.” The health benefits aren’t enough to justify that you start drinking if you don’t already.
Now we come to that tricky part of the discussion that is sure to rattle a few cages.
Organic farming, in general, doesn’t forbid the use of pesticides. Farmers can and do use pesticides in some operations. The difference is whether they are permitted by federal regulation.
The fact remains that there is an extensive list of things that are allowed in organic farming. It includes things like:
- Boric acid
- Insecticidal soaps
- Rodenticides containing vitamin D3
- Copper sulfate
Vineyards are no more immune to the ravages of pests than any other crop. One word: phylloxera. Pest control isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity. The question is how do you manage it?
To be fair, the use of pesticides and sulfites in organic farming boils down to the fact that they’re aren’t a lot of alternatives. Some wine growers use other elements of integrated pest management such as ground cover to prevent weed infestations.
And after losing an entire patch of tomatoes to blight two years ago, I can tell you that there is a special place in my garden shed for copper sulfate.
But what about residues and potential human harm?
You’ll be pleased to know that the 2017 Pesticide Data Program (PDP) Annual Summary found that nearly 100 percent of tested produce samples contained amounts well below anything that could hurt you, concluding that “The US food supply is among the safest in the world.”.
The caveat that I must add is that data show that both so-called organic and conventional grown crops had approximately equal amounts of residue.
The conclusion we can draw from this information is that there is no health advantage to organic wines. The produce isn’t even superior.
The American scholar and journalist H. L. Mencken once said,
There is always an easy solution to every problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.
He couldn’t have been more right.
It’s not a far stretch to assume that minimizing your use of the land is better for the environment. When the question of using herbicides comes up, it’s a logical leap of faith to assume that using so-called natural products are better.
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
Synthetic pesticides have a distinct advantage. Researchers can isolate the chemicals within them to minimize collateral damage to non-targeted pests. When you go to your local Lowe’s store and buy wasp spray, you know you’re getting a product that kills them and not bees.
It goes back to chemistry and genetics.
Organic products often lack this trait and kill honeybees. In fact, some of the most deadly pesticides are ones approved for this use like citronella and neem oil.
Okay, so vines don’t need bees, but the point is well-taken, nevertheless. The other problem exists with effectiveness.
Synthetic products are fine-tuned to do the job with the least amount of pesticide. For the vineyard owner, that means spraying the vineyards every couple of weeks to keep things under control.
Organic ones don’t have that same lasting power. That means spraying again every week or after every rain. Have you spotted the elephant in the room?
The carbon footprint, and thus, greenhouse gas emissions are higher with organic wines than conventional ones.
Rarely is there a simple fix to any problem when dealing with complex organisms. That’s why the arguments fall to the wayside to justify buying organic or biodynamic wines.
There are no superior health benefits. They are just as susceptible to pesticide residue which is negligible at best. And they have more negative environmental impacts.
So, keep enjoying your wine in moderate moderation. And raise a glass to the environment with a conventionally grown libation.