What is an Organic Wine?


The last time you went into a supermarket or off-licence and you saw a wine  labelled as ‘organic’, ‘biodynamic’ or ‘produced from organically grown grapes’  were you confused? This short article will dispel the myths and help you make an  informed choice.

The term ‘organic’ is defined by European Law and in order for a product to  be labeled as such an inspection by a certified body must take place. Organic  wines must display on their label the certification body that has confirmed that  their product is organic. In Europe these could be; Ecocert, Nature et Progres  or Terre et Vie from France, or The Soil Association in the UK.

In fact there is a difference between organic wine and wine produced from  organically grown grapes. An ‘organic wine’ must be made from certified organic  grapes and be bottled without any preservatives. Mostly, the main wine  preservative is sulphur dioxide which must not be added during processing for  the wine to be classed as ‘organic’. Sulphur dioxide is used by 99% of all wine  makers and even if the tiniest amount is used then a supposed wine grower must  describe the wine as ‘made from organically-grown grapes’ but not as an ‘organic  wine’. Due to the additional paperwork and fees involved in obtaining full  ‘organic status’ some wine growers state that they use ‘organic methods’ without  specifically naming their product organic.

Asthmatics, many of which are particularly sensitive to sulphur dioxide, may  find that drinking organic wines has added benefits. There is evidence to  suggest that they are more susceptible to suffer an allergic reaction to wines  containing sulphur dioxide than to those wines without. The lower levels of  sulphur dioxide could also reduce other allergic reactions such as migraines and  skin rashes that some people suffer from after drinking wine.

Currently, organic wines form just a small drop in the ocean of the wine  market. However, they are becoming ever increasingly in demand. Some vineyards,  seeing the increased status that producing an organic wine could give them  actively attempt to change their production methods in order to become organic.  This process is called reconversion.

Reconversion is the process by which a conventionally-maintained vineyard can  make the transformation to organics over a period of time. This reconversion  period is set at three years for vineyards because the grapevine is a perennial  plant, whereas only two years’ reconversion is required for annual crops like  wheat or vegetables. The reconversion period only starts once wholly organic  practices are adopted, so once the reconversion process has started a producer  can’t use any non-organic production practices. Reconversion is a tough road for  the wine producer, the extra paperwork, certification fees and also  understanding that their yields and hence income could reduce. However, it is  becoming increasingly popular in all parts of the world for traditional  vineyards to adopt reconversion.

‘Biodynamic Wines’ are often described as the next level from organic wines  and the media has coined the term ‘Super Organic’ to easily describe the  process. Based on Rudolf Steiner’s 1924 lecture series, biodynamic methods are  organic, but also match the natural rhythms of the earth and cosmos with the  vine and its capacity to bear fruit. For example, during Biodynamic production  lunar cycles are used to determine when the vines should be pruned or when the  fermentation process should commence.

Detailed knowledge of astronomy and astrology dictate the timing of all  aspects of cultivation, harvesting and winemaking. Special sprays of homeopathic  strengths are used to increase fertility of the soil and to protect the vines  from pests and diseases.

To some this approach seems outlandish – bizarre even – yet its popularity is  increasing. A growing number of top wine makers are adhering to this philosophy.  Certainly it’s an approach to wine-making which is attracting some serious and  world-wide attention.

Biodynamic winemakers claim to have noted stronger, clearer, more vibrant  tastes, as well as wines that mature more favorably. Nonetheless, critics of the  biodynamic process mention that the so called improvements to taste are due to a  more meticulous approach to cultivation and fermentation and have little to do  with channeling life forces from the cosmos.

In conclusion, although there is some debate to the better taste of organic  wines, purchasing organic or ‘super organic’ biodynamic varieties offers your  support to sustainable production methods that impact the natural environment  and ecology as little as possible.

Article written by Kevin Allen, author and founder of  [http://www.essentialfinewines.com/]

[http://www.essentialfinewines.com/] is an impartial wine information site,  allowing lovers of wine to find their favourites. Visitors can discuss their  experiences and give opinions on different wine matters. The site also has  extensive sections covering premixed wine cases and wine gifts.

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