ORGANIC WINE: NOT AS SIMPLE AS IT SEEMS.
What is an organic wine? It is not often easy to distinguish between "organic" wine and conventional wine. Many consumers believe that wine is, by definition, a natural product made from fermented grape juice. And the lack of information on the label serves to reinforce that idea: only regulatory and administrative information, such as geographical location (AOC or AOP – defined or protected vineyards and villages; IGP – protected areas; local or country wine; French wine) and other mandatory information (alcohol content, winemaker, domain or company name).
Strictly speaking, "organic wine" didn’t exist before 2012, but simply wines made from organically grown grapes. In fact, French legislation provided the specifications for vineyard management, but does not address the winemaking process itself. That used by organic wine producers prohibits the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides as well as chemical products. The objective of the winemaker who produces organic wine (both organic white wine and organic red wine, and more) is to strengthen the vines’ own defenses in order to minimize treatment. When fighting conventional diseases such as mildew and powdery mildew, the winemaker generally uses sulfur- or copper-based treatments. Organic winemaking (organic french red wine…) requires a great deal of time, demanding an additional 20% to 30% in labor compared to conventional winemaking. It takes a minimum of three years to obtain organic certification, years in which the vineyard is said to be in ‘organic conversion.’
2012: A new formula for organic wines
The European Commission voted a text early in 2012 to regulate organic wines and especially organic white wine and organic red wine. Starting in 2012, it was not enough to make organic wine simply by using organic grapes, but had also to be from vineyards conforming to specified procedures during the winemaking. The maximum allowed concentration of sulfites in organic wine is set at 100 mg per liter for organic red wine (150 mg/l for conventional wine) and 150 mg per liter for organic white wines and rosés (200 mg l for conventional wine). These are very high levels that will delight industrial organic winemakers, but won’t change much for conscientious winemakers. It’s a shame that the law remains weak, particularly with regards to the use of exogenous yeasts (yeasts not naturally present in the grapes themselves, but added from other sources). The consumer who believes in buying organic wine because it will be the truest representation of its terroir may be deceived; winemakers will still be able to create the 'flavor' they want, thanks to exogenous yeasts (as they have for decades).
To see the glass as half full, regulation has finally emerged on the vinification of organic wines, but it took months of discussion to give birth. It is to be hoped for the health of everyone that, over time, the European Commission will strengthen the legislative framework for organic wines. You can find a selection of the best organic wines in our online wine store.