When we hear the word ‘Organic’, it has an air of positivity and quality, but what does it actually mean when we’re talking about wine? Regional Account Manager, Rachel Bradford, explores:
Going back to basics, in very simple terms, wine is made from grapes. There are no raspberries, cherries, tobacco, limes or prunes, despite what the tasting notes on wine lists lead us to believe. Wine is grape juice that has been fermented by yeast and converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide. So when we talk about Organics, we need to go back to the vineyard and the agricultural side of it; farming and viticulture.
Organic means that grapes must be grown without any herbicides, pesticides or artificial fertilisers being used in the vineyard – a good thing, right?! Instead, more environmentally friendly techniques and more natural methods are used to manage the vineyard. For example, Canopy Management and leaf removal in damp conditions to allow as much airflow as possible to stop mildew. Another method is planting cover crops between the vines, this encourages biodiversity and natural pest predators.
But it’s really important to note that a winemaker can only sell their wine as ‘Organic’ if they have been certified – and this can be expensive for the winery. As a result, a lot of winemakers will practise organic farming out of choice to promote healthier vineyards, but they won’t be ‘Certified Organic’.
Becoming Organic is fantastic and a great achievement, but it can have its disadvantages. In areas where vintages are unpredictable, a particularly difficult vintage with regards to pests damaging vines or damp conditions causing mildew or other diseases, it poses a risk if they cannot bring the problem under control. As a result, it can risk destroying their yields, and ultimately their livelihood. Therefore practising Organic winemaking, but not going as far as certification, allows a ‘fall-back’ for the harder times. In some regions of the world, Certified Organic farming is simply not a viable option, for now at least.
A common thought is that Organic wine is expensive. Yes to an extent it is, but keep your eyes peeled and why not check out our ‘Fedele’ range of Nero d’Avola and Catarratto/Pinot Grigio from The Wine People from Sicily. Sicily are a fantastic source of affordable Organic wine. Dry, very low humidity and good ocean breezes provid optimum conditions for grape growing. Organic farmers have to be creative and work with nature to promote biodiversity in their vineyards and create an ecosystem that is in balance. When balanced, pests and weeds are naturally kept at bay; no need for harsh chemicals. Avondale are a superb Organic winery in Paarl in South Africa. They still face challenges but they ask what Mother Nature would do. For example, snails were a pest in Avondale’s vineyards so rather than using pesticides, they now have ducks on their estate which wander the vineyards eating the snails.
The Rhone Valley is also a good source of Organic wine with Etienne Pochon, Domaine Laurent Combier, and Château de Beaucastel examples of fantastic estates. Also the wines from Felton Road estate in Central Otago in New Zealand are superb.
So is Organic wine better? My view is both yes and no! Organic winemaking is a choice and a way of farming. It doesn’t necessarily mean the wine tastes better, but it is certainly better for the environment and the health of the vineyards. Does that mean Organic Wine is best? You can decide!
Why should we try Organic wine? The more we try and the more Organic wine we choose, the higher the demand. We’re a consumer-led nation so as our interest for kindness to our environment increases, and our desire to help the planet and the species within heightens, awareness of Organic farming ultimately increases. Meaning more shared knowledge and techniques between winemakers and viticulturists, driving this sector forwards and continually promoting sustainable farming.
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