Grapes are a delicate fruit, for this reason wine producers always use chemical treatment to protect the grapes from contamination.
But the demand for organic wine is growing worldwide and this welcome trend poses new regulatory challenges.
In France, for example, since August 2012, a label for organic wine has been introduced. For this label, the grapes must be grown according to strict criteria of organic farming, no synthetic pesticides (herbicides, insecticides and fungicides) , no GMOs can be used, and traditional winemaking practices should be observed.
The “organic wine” is generally better (and expensive, you can’t avoid that) than many brands available on the market. But even in France regulations still allow many chemicals and artificial oenological techniques (nitrogen, carbon dioxide, organic yeast for fermentation and thiamine hydrochloride to encourage the growth of yeasts, and so on).
There are a few labels that you should look out for if you’re looking for organic wines in France today:
- Demeter (biodynamic cultivation and production)
- Nature et progrès (organic grapes , organic vinification which is free from dyes , sugar and animal gelatin ) ,
- AB (which stands for “agriculture biologique“: grapes are organic, but the wine making is not necessarily organic)
- Biodyvin (organic grapes AND biodynamic winemaking , which prohibits adding sugar).
And, of course, you can rely on the label “vin bio” (organic wine) when you spot it on your bottle of French wine.
In the organic and biodynamic wine making process, the weeding process is mechanical and they do it under the vines and spaces inbetween the rows of vines. Some purists will use herbal products to do the weeding and work according to the lunar calendar.
In conventional farming, fungicides (to prevent mildew, powdery mildew and botrytis), and insecticides are used (to prevent budworm clusters and leafhoppers ). Organic production of wine includes utilization of sulfur and copper sulfate, also known as Bordeaux mixture. In biodynamic production, copper sulfate is replaced by natural mixtures (a mix of nettle manure and horsetail infusions).
Finally, in both organic and biodynamic processes, insecticides are replaced by living organisms (insects, fungi etc.) . No chemical herbicides are used. Vines are left to rot, so the soil can be enriched with developing micro-organisms. As a result the grapes will be full of natural yeast, rather than aromatic yeasts that is added during the winemaking process.
During fermentation process, yeasts transform grapes into wine, wine contains lots of compounds. It is in these compounds that the difference between conventional wine and organic wine becomes evident. This is the case of sulfites. Warning: sulfite can be dangerous in high doses (it causes headaches, intestinal disorders etc.)
In organic wines, sorbic acid are sulfites (antioxidants and stabilizers) are prohibited, only a limited dosages can be found. Organic processes excludes certain oenological practices and processes such as concentration by cold. In the case of conventional wine, European legislation requires the statement “contains sulfites” if it contains more than 10 mg / liter. For organic wines, the presence of sulfites is limited (100 mg / liter for red and 150 mg / liter for white) . These levels could drop sharply with the new European legislation. In biodynamic wines so that little or no sulfite is present!
There are a few rules for serving wine. Serve sparkling wine at 8° C, white and still wine at 10° C, rose and fruity wine 14° C and the powerful and structured red wines at 16° C. Do not hesitate to decant wine (except sparkling). For white wines, let them get some fresh air for thirty minutes. In addition, decanting red wine will intensify its multiple aromatic notes.
Organic wines should be kept at a temperature below 15° C in wine cellar or wine cabinet, because they have little or no sulfites. You can store it in a refrigerator if you consume the wine in three months.
Sometimes it is commonly thought that organic wine is worse than others. This is wrong, renowned wine merchants and specialists are creating organic wine nowadays, and many also win competitions. These wines can be appreciated young, but you can also let them mature for several years.
But let’s admit that organic wine is an instant pleasure. It has low dose of sulfites, which is normally present in wines, to prevent them from turning to vinegar. Because of this, you will not suffer from a headache so you can say goodbye to hangovers.
Behind the name organic wine, you can find excellent wine from natural vineyards, but there will be made to order wines of formula taste, odor and color. Manufacturers will not hesitate to use all the technical tricks allowed to fool our taste buds, this is the price to pay.
As you probably know, European organic wines cannot be sold in the U.S.A., due to the controversial U.S. sulfite standard: the much stricter limits that are imposed here (up to 10 mg / liter of sulfite content allowed in order to have the organic wine label) is a passionately debate issue… but we’ll have more chances to discuss this in the future!