Either the wine has ‘certified organically grown grapes’—no synthetic pesticides, etc. or the wine is ‘organic wine,’ which means the wine is not only made from organic grapes, but there are also no added sulfites during production.” In the first case, 100% of the grape used must have been grown using organic practices and the wines are allowed to be labeled “wine made with organic grapes.” Other ingredients, such as yeasts, used during the winemaking process don’t have to be organic, but must comply with certain standards.
Organic wines go further, looking at both practices in the vineyard and the winery. In this case, all Ingredients that go into the wine, such as yeasts, also have to be certified organic, and any other non-agricultural ingredients must comply to their standards. In addition, while sulfur dioxide (sulfites) are naturally created in the winemaking process, no sulfites may be added to organic wine. In the US, certification for organic wines is handled by the USDA.
Every wine, organic or not, contains naturally occurring sulfites, so there is no such thing as an entirely sulfite-free wine.
To label wines as organically grown or certified organic, a winery must fulfill all the requirements stated by its home country’s governing body of agriculture, for instance the US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) or ECOCERT (3 year process) in Europe. This method focuses largely (but not completely) on the farming practices and soil health. Grapes are grown without the use of synthetic chemicals—fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and pesticides. Biodiversity is encouraged, so the soils are teeming with life like worms and insects, some of which are beneficial. Cover crops are planted to increase the nutrients in the soils. As a result, vines grow stronger and are more resistant to diseases.