I am happy to be living in a city that has a culture of supporting local and valuing organic foods. My own preference for buying organic when I can, has naturally filtered into how I choose wine as well. For me, the choice to buy wines from producers that farm with awareness goes beyond mere taste, although that is still an important factor when choosing wine. I also believe that we have a moral obligation, it is naive to think that the some of the chemical treatments used in the vineyards that kill unwanted “pests” do not adversely affect us.
As organic wine gains popularity, a lot of terms get thrown around. Let’s have a look at some of the most common ones you may hear when discussing “green” wine:
Organic wine is produced from grapes without the use of pesticides or chemical fertilizers. There is no one unifying set of standards when it comes to organic certification and labelling.
There are many wineries that have been farming and producing wine according to organic principles, but may not want to go through the bureaucracy of getting the official certification. The language on the label – biologique, biologico, ecologico all mean organic. Organic wine does not mean that the wine is a vegan, as animal products can still be used in the winemaking process – sorry to further complicate things!
There seems to be a lot of confusion when it comes to the role of sulphur dioxide in winemaking (SO2). SO2 is a natural bi-product of fermentation, so all wines do in fact contain some sulphur, even if the amount is minimal. Some, if not most, wine from organically-grown grapes are finished with the addition of SO2 (usually minimum amounts) because it merely acts as a preservative to prevent premature spoilage of the wine. Unless you are buying your wine from the farmer next door and drinking it that day, most wines will need some SO2 to keep them from going bad. There is a lot more SO2 added to dried fruit, jam, and prepared soups than you’ll find in a wine. If you are very sensitive and suffer from allergies or asthma, you may react after drinking a wine with mid to high levels of SO2. This is all the more reason to become more selective in your search for the most “natural” wine possible.
Lutte Raisonée (Reasoned Fight)
The use of chemicals in the vineyards is rationalized by assessing and evaluating risk. Lutte raisonée makes sense for the farmer who does not want to risk losing the crop if there is a threat so the use of chemicals is reserved for very specific treatments only when absolutely necessary.
Sustainable agriculture is really just about farming with ecological awareness; the focus is not merely on the economic viability of the vineyard but also on producing healthy fruit and respecting nature. This type of farming limits the need for chemicals and pesticides plus makes it possible to move towards cleaner farming practices over time.
Most natural wines would be considered organic as well as biodynamic, although this is not always the case. These wines are produced without adding or removing anything during the winemaking process. Some winemakers do add small quantities of SO2 at bottling, though many do not. A truly natural wine has a short shelf life and if it is white, they tend to brown very quickly.
I am most intrigued by biodynamic farming these days. There are many aspects that seem really “out there”, a lot about connecting with the earth. However when you start to look at what these vignerons are doing and actually taste a biodynamic wine, you may realize that these farmers are actually onto something. Without getting overly complicated, biodynamic farming cultivates a diversified, balanced and self-contained ecosystem in order to promote health and fertility in the vineyard. Learn more about biodynamics here.