Back in 1981, “organic wine” was a somewhat outlandish idea. Sure, some growers had committed to growing organic grapes — but few could turn out a reliably drinkable wine without sulfites, fining agents and other chemical additives. Tony Norskog, a new graduate of UC Davis’ esteemed wine program, wound up going organic by default when he decided to interplant his family’s vegetable garden with his grapevines.
With two young sons who loved to browse in the garden, Tony couldn’t risk using pesticides. So he began experimenting with organic viticulture, and eventually was hired to produce a barrel of sulfite-free wine for a local doctor with a sulfite allergy. His organic wine business was born.
Today, he’s the world’s largest producer of USDA-certified organic wine.
Tony and his partner Donn Berdahl distribute 150,000 cases of organic wine each year, to 46 states. They’ve remained committed to the idea that organic wine should be drinkable, affordable and available to anyone. With their flagship label, Our Daily Red, that ideal has become a reality.
You can find Our Daily Red on the shelf in almost any grocery store for less than $10. It’s a balanced and fruity table wine, sulfite-free and vegan friendly, great on its own or with dinner. Its sister wine, WELL REaD, costs somewhere around $5 at Trader Joe’s. The rest of Orleans Hill’s lineup, from Alexandria to Zinfandel, are all organically produced, sulfite-free and stamped with the USDA Organic label. And they’re all priced to suit your budget.
Finding the way to a well-crafted and stable organic wine was no small feat. In the early days of 20th-century organic winemaking, some winemakers turned out oxidized, vinegary brews that gave the industry a black eye. After a few decades of hard work, organic wines are now scoring higher than conventional wines — but they’ve still got a bad reputation to overcome, and that can mean a lower price.
Tony’s mission is to make wine that’s delicious and approachable, but keep that low price tag. Our Daily Red is an excellent example, but Orleans Hill also bottles varietals and blends: a bold, rich Merlot; a bright, fruity Cote Zero; a subtle Syrah and more. See all Orleans Hill wines.
Tony worked in wineries around the world before starting his own vineyard, and always had friends and contacts who were practicing agriculture. “After a while,” he told me, “you start to see your friends dying off from weird cancers. Anybody who’s farming and looks around sees that.” In the past few decades he’s seen large producers and growers switch to organic viticulture, just one sign that the organic trend is here to stay. Still, he holds that the best organic growers are the ones who live in their vineyards and work the land themselves. Good insight from a guy who built a backyard vineyard into a national distribution network.
image: Tony Norskog