These days most of us buy into the idea that when it comes to food, organic is the healthy option. “You are what you eat”, or so they say. But not, it seems, when it comes to what you drink.
Back in March 2008, the group Pesticide Action Network Europe, found that 100% of conventional wines analysed contain pesticides, with one bottle containing 10 different chemicals. The situation has not improved greatly, with a recent study showing that pesticide residues are still found in 90% of wines, whilst an article in Decanter magazine reports that children in one of France’s most popular wine growing regions, Bordeaux, have suffered from sickness as a result of pesticide spraying of vines near schools, leading to worries over the health of vineyard workers.
And it’s not just pesticides lurking in your average glass of wine. Under current EU laws, more than 50 additives are currently allowed in wines, with the USA and New World regulations adding a few more to the list.
Why aren’t there more organic wines?
Producing wines to organic methods is expensive, and for many owners burdened with the need to produce large quantities at knock down prices, it’s a luxury they just can’t afford.
Chemical treatment of vines increases productivity and profitability by reducing labour costs and by protecting the vineyard from pests and diseases that can otherwise affect output. To achieve a quality wine by natural methods means the winemaker must start with healthy grapes – and a commitment to organic production means not only battling against natural elements, but it can also be a fight against other environmental problems.
Being organic is a crusade. And a costly one for the winemaker!
What is organic wine?
After many years of debate, the EU finally agreed in 2012 on a definition of "organic" wines: they are made from organic grapes and only allow the winemaker to include a very restricted list of additives in their production. An organic wine – such as Tour De Belfort - will carry on its bottle, a certification such as Ecocert.
Do organic wines taste better?
Not always! To achieve a fine wine using organic methods is a labour of love, requiring enormous effort in the vines. It is a real challenge to produce a healthy grape! We are always at the mercy of the weather and only a drastic sorting of the best grapes will guarantee a good wine.
Why do organic wines taste different every year?
Every organic vintage will be heavily influenced by the native weather conditions - sun increases sugar and alcohol; cool temperatures increase acidity; rain can be too much or not enough.
Conventional wines are much less under the influence of nature, with producers using flavour enhancers - yeasts, additives and preservatives - to make up for any shortfalls caused by nature. But the attraction of organic wines to those who seek out the natural choice, is that the personality of each vintage shines through, giving rise to debate as loyal wine-lovers compare and celebrate the differences year on year.
Taking organic to the next level: what are biodynamic and natural wines?
These wines are more difficult to source than their organic sisters, but have found a niche following in the wine world. A step further along from organic production, biodynamic agriculture, developed by Rudolph Steiner during the 1920’s, takes into account polyculture around the vines, the use of natural preparations based on plants, minerals and manure and even the influence of the moon calendar.
Ever since Isabelle Legeron MW, crusader for the natural wine movement, launched the annual RAW wine fair in London showcasing wines with zero intervention, no added yeast, no additives including no sulphites, natural wines have become the talk of the town. These wines have a character of their own and might not appeal to all – but for those adventurers amongst us, they definitely add to the pleasure of discovering new aromas and flavours.
A toast to a “healthier” Wine O’Clock?
Our Tour de Belfort wines are certified organic and we make them in as natural a way as possible with using only the lowest levels of sulphites necessary to maintain stability in transportation. In just five vintages, we have been awarded 16 medals, making the long hours working up and down rows and rows of vines worthwhile.