What “Certified Organic” Actually Means

The O’Connell Family Estate’s Commitment to Certified Organic

 

CCOF Certified Organic Sign

With so many food labels on the market these days, it is difficult to decipher what means what. At the O’Connell Family Vineyard Estate, we are committed to the benefits of organic agriculture, for you, ourselves and our environment. Our gardens and vineyard have been farmed sustainably since 1988, organically since 2000, and gained 100% organic certification status by the CCOF in 2013. Understanding the requirements for labeling a food as “organic,” as well as the benefits of consuming organic food, will help you make informed choices the next time you reach for a head of lettuce.

What “Certified Organic” Means

Organic dirt in hands

Any consumable that has been labeled “organic” must be grown and processed according to USDA production and handling guidelines. Produce may be labeled organic if it has met several criteria. First, organic seeds must have been grown in soil that has not been treated by prohibited substances – including most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides – for three years prior to harvest. The seeds must not be genetically modified (GMOs). Second, organic crops are grown in soil fertilized by tillage and cultivation practices and supplemented with approved substances, including animal and crop waste (compost) as well as allowed synthetic materials. Finally, genetic engineering (GMOs), ionizing radiation, and sewage sludge are all prohibited for the production of certified organic produce.

The USDA also has strict standards for labeling meat, milk, eggs, or other animal products as organic, focusing mainly on how the animals are raised and fed. For instance, organic livestock must be fed agricultural feed that is 100% organic, with allowances for vitamin and mineral supplements. Animals that chew their cud – cows, sheep, etc. – must be out to pasture for no less than 120 days a year, with at least 30% of their diet coming from the pasture. All organic livestock must also have access to the outdoors throughout the year, with limited confinements allowed for documented environmental or health reasons.

Bird House in the Vineyard

These are the minimum standards for gaining organic certification. At O’Connell Family Vineyard Estate, we strive to go beyond these standards, eliminating any chemical we can. For example, rather than using deer repellent to discourage the wandering herd’s love of our grapes, we hang bags with organic blood meal, which has an odor deer absolutely detest. We avoid using more aggressive measures and instead work with their natural likes and dislikes to save our harvest for our O’Connell Family Wines. Rather than using even an approved pesticide for managing the glassy-wing sharpshooter, we hang bird boxes built by our vineyard carpenter from leftover wood scraps to attract blue birds, which are natural predators of this invasive insect capable of destroying a vineyard.

The Benefits of a Certified Organic Lifestyle

The benefits of embracing a certified organic lifestyle come from respecting the natural environment, by relying on pure seeds (Gabrielle especially loves heritage seeds) and sustainable cultivation practices, rather than petroleum-based chemicals and genetic modification, to enrich the land and produce bountiful crops. Organic farming methods not only benefit the environment, but they also provide quantifiable benefits for the people who consume organically produced food.

Lettuce and flowers at O'Connell Family Vineyard Estate
We love inter-planting edible flowers with our vegetables at our Organic Vineyard Estate.

In limiting the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, organic farming methods help combat water, soil, and air pollution caused by the production of these chemicals, many of which are petroleum based, as well as the application and runoff of these chemicals. Organic farming also improves the quality of the soil. Just one teaspoon of organic soil, fertilized with animal and crop waste, hosts as many as 600 million to 1 billion helpful bacteria from more than 15,000 species. Soil treated by synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, however, contain as few as 100 helpful bacteria. Biodiverse soil does not compact as easily, provides more nourishment to growing crops, and is less prone to erosion.

Organic farming methods are not only better for the environment, but they also produce food that is measurably more nutritious than those produced by conventional methods. Organic foods are free of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides (but for those allowable by USDA standards), which means they are also free of harsh chemicals that have been linked to cancer, developmental delays, ADHD, and lower sperm count in males. Organic meats, dairy, and eggs are produced by animals not treated by antibiotics or growth hormones. In conventional livestock, the use of antibiotics has contributed to widespread antibiotic resistance, and the use of growth hormones has been clearly linked to an increased risk of cancer. Organic foods are not only more nutritious because of the chemicals they are lacking, but also because of the qualities that are added because of organic farming methods. Organic meats, dairy, and eggs have all been found to contain more omega-3 fatty acids, likely due to the grass-fed diets of organically raised livestock. Organic produce has been found to have 20% higher antioxidant content, making it nutrient rich and, candidly, much more delicious than conventional produce.

The O’Connell Family Vineyard Estate’s Commitment to Certified Organic

Organic Violas tricolor
Bee on Lavender at the O'Connell Family Vineyard Estate

At the O’Connell Family Vineyard Estate, biodiversity allows us to minimize even organic inputs, supporting our goal of minimal interruption of natural processes, whether with our O’Connell Family Wines or Gabrielle Collection products. We mindfully created a diverse eco-system to invigorate our certified organic O’Connell Family Vineyard Estate gardens to ensure the overall vineyard health with minimal inputs outside those created at our Vineyard Estate. In addition to the benefits seen in the soil, we take organic farming to the next level in creating a complex bio-diverse eco-system, where natural predators, like birds, actually help control pests and where natural pollinators, like the honeybee, are able to thrive. The interaction between these bugs, birds, and bees naturally controls unwanted pest populations. Our fresh, rich compost nurtures the soil microbes to continually deliver nutrients to the roots, creating great flavor in the plants, whether grapes, citrus, lettuce or herbs. Our soil produces excellent quality culinary and lifestyle enhancing products that embody the natural luxury of wine country living. This harmony supports our well-being.

Whether at our tasting experience at Gabrielle Collection taste+ or in the GC Napa Valley Culinary artisan products enjoyed by our Foodie Club members from coast to coast, the O’Connell Family Vineyard Estate is committed to using only the highest quality, certified organic ingredients. This principle was instilled in Gabrielle from a young age, watching her mother nourish her loved ones with organic, exceptional quality foods. Today, this legacy inspires all Gabrielle Collection products, sourced from our certified organic O’Connell Family Vineyard Estate gardens in Napa Valley. We bring purity of flavor to all of our Wine Country Foodie recipes by providing GC Napa Valley Culinary products in each shipment.

spread of wine and vegetable at the O'Connell Family Wines Vineyard Estate a

Meticulously controlled, on-going fresh production in our CCOF certified organic kitchen at Gabrielle Collection taste+ allows us to carefully oversee all aspects of each of our culinary products, from seed to harvest all the way through to bottling and shipment. Starting at the O’Connell Family Vineyard Estate garden, we farm and pick fresh herbs, fruit and vegetables. They are turned into culinary treats in our certified organic Gabrielle Collection taste+ kitchen, within five miles of the estate. Our Gabrielle Collection artisan GC Napa Valley Culinary Products are born and made right here in Napa Valley.

Treat yourself to a life well lived and book your tasting at our Gabrielle Collection taste+ retail location today and browse our GC Napa Valley Culinary products!