Organic Wine for Beginners
An organic vineyard in Penedes in North Spain showing a wide variety of grasses and plants, not just vines. A good indication of organic farming.
Only 5-7% of the world’s vineyards are officially registered as organic. So why does it get talked about so much?
Despite its connotations of uber-hipsters draining exclusively organically farmed wine through their vintage comb manicured beard; there is a good reason organic farming is often talked about in wine. The current trend is for more organic farming and more organically produced wine. It’s important to note that organic farming isn’t a new wave hippy craze. Since humans discovered farming thousands of years ago until the 1800’s, it was the only way to farm. It only became a specialised minority after 1945.
What is Organic?
Organic wine is wine made from grapes that are grown in vineyards that do not use anything man-made. So no synthetic;
- Fertilisers to help the plants grow
- Herbicides to stop weed growth
- Fungicides to stop fungus
- Pesticides to kill pests
Farming this way tends to be a lot of hard work, time consuming and reduce yields. Conventional or industrialised farming since the Second World War uses synthesised chemicals in abundance. Managed poorly (as is sometimes the case) they can severely damage soil health and thus biodiversity and neighbouring ecosystems and habitats. Only using treatments derived from nature* to fertilise or protect from disease not only alleviates these problems, in many cases it actually improves soil health and biodiversity.
A gnarly old bush vine in Montsant, northern Spain, surrounded by wild flora
That’s great…but what does it mean in my glass?
Aside from the warm fuzzy feeling an ethical, organically farmed wine should now give you; organic farming can actually help to maximise grape health and quality. Both are absolute crucial for the production of good wine. You can make bad wine with good grapes but you can’t make good wine with bad grapes.
The reason grapes can be better quality from organic farms is that being so much more labour intensive and difficult it keeps yields lower. The less grapes produced from an area of vines tend to mean increased quality and concentration of flavours which can help make better wine. Another theory is that the vines have to work harder thus creating more concentration of flavour in the grapes. Another reason quality can be higher is because organic farming is good indication of the level of care and love put into all stages of the product. You aren’t likely to bother farming organically and not put your heart and soul into making the best wine you can.
The term ‘organic’ isn’t legally regulated in Australia or in most of the world yet. There are however regulatory bodies that certify producers as organic. If you are certified you can choose to display the certification symbol on the label. Most quality wine producers won’t display this symbol on their labels as it is seen as a selling on the fact it’s organic not on the quality. Some producers will tell you they are organic but haven’t gone through the long winded paper work to get certified. In my experience this can be absolutely 100% true or absolute bulls**t (which ironically can be used as organic fertiliser).
Flowers growing amongst the vines in Barolo, northern Italy.
Organic in a nutshell
Choosing to drink organically farmed wine can be not only a more ethical and sustainable choices for drinking but can even help you to find better quality wine. This of course is far from always the case as healthy good quality grapes sadly don’t always get made into good wine. That said it at least shows love has gone into it which can’t always be said for non-organically produced wines.
On the other hand a vast majority of wines produced the world over, including those of the very highest quality, are not organic. Many good producers use synthetic treatments more sparingly and responsibly to limit environmental impact and put just as much love into making their wines.
*Despite some confusion and misinformation floating around, most organic wine contains sulphur dioxide as a preservative still. Sulphur dioxide is naturally occurring and can be manufactured from organic sources. For those who aren’t allergic there is no reason for concern as it is perfectly harmless. Dried apricots contain 10-20 times more sulphur dioxide than most wines.
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