What New Year’s resolutions have you chosen to adopt in 2022?
Shed a few kilos? Declutter the house? Drink less but drink better?
Maybe it’s finally time to eat a more sustainable diet which includes more locally grown and organically farmed produce.
What Defines an Organic Wine?
Wine is as much a farmed product as any fruit, veg or even reared animal for food production and the principles for organic farming are much the same. It’s worth noting that there are currently no universal rules for organic certification and so the definitions will vary from country to country but there is a degree of commonality.
Broadly-speaking, grapes that are organically-grown means without the addition of any synthetic chemicals in the form of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or fertilisers. Only natural plant or mineral-based preparations can be used in the vineyard.
It’s important not to get confused between a wine that’s ‘made with organically-grown grapes’ and one that’s ‘certified organic’, meaning that it’s been made using organically-grown grapes AND with strictly limited and permitted additives during the winemaking process.
To Be Certified or Not to Be Certified, That is The Question
This is a pretty divisive topic amongst wine producers, especially those that have always worked in a more holistic, sustainable and nature-friendly way. The reason being that producers have to pay to apply for certification and the amount is not insignificant. Producers like Triebaumer in Austria and Domaine de L’Espigouette in the Southern Rhône choose not to prescribe to any of the certification bodies for this reason.
Triebaumer have been practising ethical and nature-conscious principles since the early 1970s, and in their words are 99% organic complying with virtually all regulations that govern organic viticulture. They don’t feel the need to pay for certification, but rely on a personal and open dialogue with their consumers to offer reassurance. Check out their Furmint if you like bone-dry, green-skinned fruit, mouth-watering white wines like Grüner Veltliner, Muscadet, Picpoul de Pinet and Pouilly-Fumé.
L’Espigouette have been working in an eco-conscious way, respecting their soil and local environment with minimal interventions for many years too. For all intents and purposes, they tick the right ‘organic’ boxes even if they don’t display the appropriate logo on the label. If you like broader dry whites with a yellow-skinned and exotic fruit profile, you must try their Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc.
The only potential drawback of not showing a recognisable certification logo is that you are reliant on consumers taking the time to do their own research in order to make an informed decision. Given that most of us make our wine choices within a matter of seconds, it would be easy to overlook these ‘unmarked’ wines.
Organic Wines are No Passing Fad
It’s important to remember that up until the First World War, most wines were made organically as artificial chemicals to aid agriculture weren’t invented until 1909 when the first nitrogen-based fertiliser was created. We’re simply going full circle.
In late 2020 following a public consultation, the EU set a new ‘Green Deal’ target of at least 25% of all European agricultural land under organic farming by 2030. Whilst this is hugely ambitious, given they’re currently sitting at around 8.5% and there’s a substantial amount of land currently in conversion (it takes a minimum of 2 years for general farming and 3 for wine production), it shows the EU’s long-term commitment to greener and more sustainable farming.
A shining example of a recently converted wine estate is rosé specialist Château de l’Escarelle in Provence. Following a 3 year conversion program, they achieved full certification in 2020 and were able to start marketing their first organically-labelled wines last year, using the green ‘AB’ logo (Agriculture Biologique). To demonstrate that you don’t have to spend big on organic wines, try their Palm Par l’Escarelle which is their machine-harvested and cool-fermented base-level wine. Delicately-fragranced yet lively on the palate, this is the perfect accompaniment for a mid-week pasta or pizza.
Is Organic & Biodynamic One and the Same?
Not exactly, no, although they’re often practised side by side. Biodynamic farming centres on creating a self-regulating ecosystem through the harmonious integration of plants, animals, air, water and soil. It focuses on creating healthy soil using compost preparations in order to ‘fix’ and stabilise nitrogen levels. The techniques and timings involved are more holistic than scientific-based which has split opinion on its credibility since Rudolf Steiner set out his founding principles in 1924.
Biodynamic farming spearheaded the modern organic farming movement and whilst some of its more spiritual practices are still questioned, overall it’s proven to be effective. Demeter is the global governing body that provides the ecological trademark in recognition of certified growers.
Producers like Bodegas Altolandon in Manchuela and Château Les Graves de Viaud in Bordeaux are certified both organic and biodynamic and aim to produce their wines with as little impact on the environment and as minimal intervention at every stage of production as possible. You only need to look at the label of Altolandon’s Mil Historias Bobal to instantly recognise its environmental values and the wine inside will appeal to anyone with a love of the earthy, dark fruited wines from the Rhône valley.
Les Graves de Viaud’s ‘Les Cadets’ is an unoaked, fruit-forward red Bordeaux based majoritively on the two Cabernets, Franc and Sauvignon. Philip Betschart and his family converted the 15 hectare estate to biodynamic farming when they bought it in 2010 and have gained great international recognition for their natural approach in a region that is predominantly conventional.
To help steer you towards making a ‘greener’ choice at the start of 2022, don’t forget there’s 10% off all wines in January with the voucher code JAN10.