Once there was a time when people, both in the wine trade and the general consumer, would actively avoid organic wines if they even knew they existed in the first place.
But according to the most recent figures from the 2014 Australian Organic Market Report, organic wine is on the rise among wine lovers, accounting for 6.9% of the total organic market in Australia, with organic grape production increasing by 120% between 2011 and 2014.
Thanks in part to an increase in the number of talented young winemakers actively seeking out organically grown grapes to make their wines from, and a coincidental rise in beards, tortoiseshell glasses, farmers markets, and small wine bars, organic wines are finally carving out a niche for themselves. And drinkers are reaping the rewards.
Chemical free wine
An organic wine is a wine made from grapes that have been grown without the use of artificial or synthetic chemicals, such as herbicides and pesticides. To keep the weeds and bugs at bay, organic farmers work with nature, rather than against it, by boosting their vineyard’s biodiversity. For example, they introduce cover crops to provide a habitat for beneficial insects that are the natural enemy of problem species or have small sheep graze between the vine rows, eating the grass and weeds. In this way, the vineyard becomes a self-regulating, natural ecosystem, which is able to combat problems intrinsically and eliminates the need for artificial, and potentially toxic, chemicals.
Nowadays, you will no doubt find many examples of organic wines appearing on the wine list of your favourite small bar or bottle shop shelf, but to be sure that the wine you are drinking is truly organic, it must be certified. Certification is provided by an independent third-party organisation, which carries out annual audits on vineyards that have applied for organic certification, to ensure that the grapes that they grow comply with the strict standards of both the particular certifying body and the department of agriculture. It is against the law for a wine producer to sell or promote their wine as organic if it is not certified.
Certification and Control
There are two prominent organic certifying bodies in Italy that most winegrowers will use to prove that their wine is organic/biodynamic. The letters DOC or DOCG on an Italian wine label mean Denominazione di Origine Controllata, and Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, the latter superior to the first. They refer to government guarantees of the wines’ origins. About 300 wine growing regions in Italy have the DOC designation, while only 21 have a DOCG label. The DOCG wines conform to DOC laws and in addition are quality tested by government-appointed inspectors.
Look out for the particular certifying body’s logo, which, in most cases, will be printed somewhere on the wine label. This is your assurance that what you’re drinking is actually organic.Just because a wine is organic, however, doesn’t mean that it is somehow healthier for you. The environment is certainly in much better health, than if you were spraying poisons all over the place, and the grapes certainly taste a whole lot better, meaning that in the hands of a skilled winemaker, the wine can definitely taste better, but organic wine still contains alcohol, which, of course, is harmful in excessive amounts.
The hard numbers on organic
In saying that, organic wine does contain half the maximum legal limit of sulphur dioxide (220) – a common preservative in wine that is used to inhibit or kill unwanted yeasts and bacteria, and the main culprit for those shocking hangovers, the next day.The maximum allowable limit of “pres 220” in Australian wine is 300 parts per million (ppm). For Australian certified organic wine it’s 150 ppm. To give a little context, most dry wines usually won’t exceed 200 ppm, and dried fruits can contain anywhere between 500 and 3000 ppm. If you are overly sensitive to sulphur, then drinking organic wines can be a “healthier” choice and will usually make the next day’s declarations of a sober future a lot less necessary.
For most people, the choice to drink an organic wine usually comes down to taste. As with most organic produce, be it beef, eggs, apples, or dare I say it, kale, the flavours are inherent, complex, pure and delicious. Organic food nourishes you in a way that no conventionally grown food can, and the same can be said of organic wine. Many sommeliers love serving these types of wines in their restaurants because they taste great and they tend to go well with food.
But, don’t take my word for it... here are a few certified organic wines for you to seek out and try for yourself.