This week is National Organic Week (NOW). An ‘organically’ defined ten day week aimed at increasing awareness of the benefits of organic products and farming production systems in Australia.
Organics is already the fastest growing sector in the food and beverage market (so NOW’s remit ought to seem largely undemanding), however I often find that many consumers still aren’t aware of the ‘basics’ when it comes to organic foodstuffs…particularly organic wine.
So here are the basics…
What is organic wine?
Organic wine is wine produced from 100% organically grown grapes by use of organic wine making processes.
These definitions can vary from country to country, however it is generally accepted that organically grown grapes are farmed without the use of genetically modified organisms or synthetic chemicals (e.g. fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, slippery slides…I may have made that last one up) and organic wine making does not permit the use of chemical additives (with the exception of minimal sulphur dioxide – see below).
Instead, wine producers adopt creative natural methods to enhance soils, vine health and grape quality and all aspects of the supply chain are covered – from production and packaging through to transportation of the wine to market.
In reality there isn’t a huge amount of ‘organic wine’. However, there is a lot of wine made using organic grapes.
Are all organic wines preservative free?
Sulphur dioxide is a naturally occurring element in wine and a natural by-product of the process of organic matter breaking down – as in grape fermentation. It also acts as a preservative by assisting in preventing the premature oxidisation and spoilage of wine.
Consequently, extra sulphur dioxide (or “preservative 220” on your wine label) is often added to wine to extend its lifespan.
In Australia, a very small amount of sulphur dioxide is permitted to be added to organic wines (about 50% of the amount permitted in ‘conventional’ non-organic wines). Therefore, it cannot be presumed that all organic wines are free from added preservatives (however, those that are, should state “no added preservatives” on the bottle label).
That being said, most small, good quality producers – even those that are not certified organic – are not likely to use more than the minimum amount of sulphur in their wine making.
Why go organic?
Because, arguably, it is better for the environment, better for your health and better for your tastebuds.
Organic farming is capable of substantially reducing many of the key impacts of agriculture on the surrounding environment because it eliminates the use of many harmful chemicals, avoids the large greenhouse gas emissions from the manufacture of nitrogen fertilizer, and accounts for animal welfare.
Moreover, it sustains the natural fertility and health of the soil – the foundation of organic wine production. Healthy soil, untainted by synthetic chemical inputs, can greatly enhance the flavour of the grapes and produce wines which are pure, distinctive and more representative of where they are grown (their “terroir”).
Growing evidence also indicates that organic food and beverages are higher in nutritional value and are not likely to cause many of the allergic reactions which have been linked to food additives.
So, what’s biodynamic wine?
Biodynamics is a system of organic agriculture. It is based on a series of lectures given by Austrian philosopher, Rudolf Steiner in 1924, and expands on the principles of organics by using homeopathic ‘preparations’ (specially prepared, organic fertilisers) in accordance with plant bio-rhythms.
The central aspect of biodynamics is that the farm, as a whole, is seen as an organism, and therefore should be a closed self-nourishing system.
Disease of organisms is not to be tackled in isolation but is a symptom of problems in the whole organism.
Sustainable growth in farming is encouraged by reconnecting this organism with cosmic life forces (i.e. lunar cycles).
Biodynamics is a pretty hot topic of conversation in the Australian wine community at the moment. According to Australia’s Biodynamic Agriculture Association, biodynamic farmers have reported a minimum 25% better water retention (a huge benefit in times of drought).
How can I be sure a wine is actually organic/biodynamic?
In Australia, any wines labelled organic/biodynamic must be certified by an accredited domestic body, of which the main two are The National Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Australia (NASAA) and Australian Certified Organic, the certification arm of Australia’s largest organic farmers association, the Biological Farmers of Australia (BFA).
Which organic wines should I try?
Give these ones a crack…
Followed by something ‘roséy’…
2011 Tambourine Wine Lovers Petite Fleur Rosé
Then a fresh, biodynamic red…
2012 Kalleske Clarry’s GSM
And a little brandy to finish…
Harris Organic Brandy (the only certified organic brandy in Australia)
Organic links and further reading
National Organic Week (NOW)
Australian Certified Organic
National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASAA)
Wine Australia – Organics and Biodynamics
Wild Organic Wines for Women
Biodynamic Agriculture Australia Ltd
Max Allen’s biodynamic wine website
If you liked this post, you may also like these gourmet musings…