Organically Farmed Wine
The hype keeps growing with the organic wine movement and rightly so. The term “organic farming” was legally defined in 1981 as ‘farming which uses no synthetic chemical products’. This prohibits the use of a wide range of pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers in order to protect the natural environment.
All of the wines we sell are classified as ‘organically farmed’ as a minimum standard. This means that the vineyard is following organic farming practices but without having formal certification.
The first aspect of organically farmed wines is the attitude towards and use of chemicals. Mass-made wine involves the use of chemically derived herbicides. It also requires fungicides to protect the vines from disease and insects that can spoil the grapes. Organically farmed producers only use naturally derived protective sprays, and only when they absolutely need to. They will often use Bordeaux mixture on the vines, which is comprised of lime, copper sulphate and water to inhibit mildew. Both of these compounds are generally permitted under the various agencies that grant organic certification.
They also look to use the natural environment to encourage biodiversity in the vineyards through:
– planting cover crops in between the vines
– rigourous ploughing of the sols
– the use of manures and natural composts to fertilise the vines
– integrating predator populations to manage pests that threaten the vines or grapes
Most vineyards will use the minimum amount of sulphur dioxide needed in the winery to ensure cleanliness and preservation (to prevent oxidation).
Lutte raisonnée is a French term that nicely sums up the attitude our producers have. The direct translation is ‘the reasoned fight’. One of our French producers told us, it means that you only use what you absolutely have to on the vines. It’s a natural first step towards full organic farming which can take many years to convert to, and receive official certification.
Why aren’t more vineyards certified Organic?
One of the aspects that grape growers have the most difficulty in managing is moisture caused by the weather (which is of course different each year and provides the variations we refer to in ‘Vintages’).
Organic certification of grape growing is much easier in warm, dry environments with more predictable weather and less precipitation. The Rhone Valley in the South East of France is a good example of this, compared to more northerly regions like Champagne or Chablis where it is much more tricky to get things right. Producers in these regions are therefore more inclined to use standard methods of production.
Also, whilst various bodies have been set-up to monitor organic production, many producers prefer to follow organic principles outside any formal organisation and without certification. This can be because the process of certification can be long and onerous, or because there is a need to retain some flexibility to use non-organic methods if required.
Organically Certified Wine
For a wine to be labelled Organic, they require third party certification to show that the grapes used in the production of the wine are 100% organically grown and that they are free from the use of chemicals.
Certification agencies carry out annual audits on vineyards to ensure that the grapes they grow comply with the strict standards of both the particular certifying body and the department of agriculture. It’s also against the law for a wine producer to sell or promote their wine as organic if it is not certified.
As of today, the definition of organic wine does vary from country to country. For example, in Europe and Canada, organic wines are allowed to have added sulphites, whereas in the USA, they aren’t.
Whilst the environment is in better health with organic practices, the real attraction of organic wines comes from the juice inside the grapes. In the hands of a skilled winemaker, the wine can hold more flavour, depth, acidity. The structure allows for the development of a much more interesting wine.