As if there was not enough confusion with wine regions and labels, now they’ve added organic, biodynamic, natural, fair-trade and more types of wine. How not to get lost?
Organic Wine Club is on the mission to introduce you to delicious organic wines that will be healthier for you than conventional ones, so you can drink less but better wines.
So what are organic wines?
EU laws state that wine is organic when made from grapes grown organically.
Organic farming presumes that no harmful pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and chemical fertilisers are allowed to grow the grapes. Grapes are amongst other fruit that store those harmful substances, hence it is increasingly beneficial for your health to drink wines made from organic grapes. It also generally means no artificial or synthetic preservatives were used, no colours added and no agents added to alter the taste. If you are wondering, organic also means nothing genetically modified.
There’s loads of restrictions. So what’s permitted?
It is all about naturally occurring substances: elemental sulphur and salt copper sulphate (Bordeaux mixture). Plant oils, seaweed, powders based on wild herbs do not enter vine’s sap or grape pulp and thus have no effect on the resulting wine. Organic farming focuses on the techniques that are focused on prevention rather than cure.
The main nutrient added is compost as it is an organic fertiliser. It allows slow release of soil minerals and nutrients by encouraging an array of living organisms, so in a nutshell it feeds the soil, not the plants.
It also means that vine roots penetrate deeper into the soil and thus said to make the wines taste more complex.
What about vegan or vegetarian wines?
Don’t be surprised, a product that is made of grapes can be unsuitable for vegetarians or vegans. Winemaking process involves filtration and fining step, which can be conducted using animal based products: animal gelatin, a fishy isinglass, egg whites or a milk based casein. There are other methods available for that - gravity-based or an inert clay ‘bentonite’ usage. The latter is not perfect either as it can strip your wine of its light and delicate flavours.
So I take organic wines are natural wines, aren’t they?
Natural wines are the ones that are made without major intervention during the winemaking process. Natural wines are not necessarily made from organic grapes, and at the same time organic wines are mostly about the grapes and not what happens in the winery. The latter process is exactly how you should differ these two kinds of wines - organic is about the grape, natural is about winery.
One major difference here is the addition of sulphites - natural wines have no added sulphites, just naturally occurring ones. Organic wines will have less sulphites than conventional wines, but winemakers can still use them.
Is it complicated about biodynamic wines?
Biodynamic is something different, yes! To tell you the story short, there was a guy Rudolf Steiner, who back in 1920s developed a concept for a holistic system of agriculture. It focuses on improving soil and plant health by using herbal and mineral composts. What is important that the interventions are made strictly during particular days, which are selected based on the movement and positioning of the moon and other planets. Some experts agree that this system is an origin of today’s organic farming.
You have mentioned sulphite-free wines. What’s important here?
Sulphites (sulfites) or ‘preservatives 220’ are additives that are used during winemaking process as preservatives against unwanted bacteria, but also to hide some faults, prevent oxygen from entering the vats and, as a safety net, protect the winemaker from accidental flaws. It became quite a common practice, yet some decide to minimise the amount of sulphites they add or, as with natural wines, restrain from adding sulphites.
Some are not, but still some minor level of sulphites occurs naturally in the bottle even though the levels are very low – should be maintained below 10 ppm (parts per million). Wine made with grapes grown organically normally calls for sulphites no higher than 100 ppm, so if you see ‘organic’ sign on the label it doesn’t mean that there are no sulphites, just the fact that the levels are lower. The wine will be labeled as ‘no added sulphites’ if there are none, or less than 10 ppm.
What’s wrong about sulphites?
They are quite aggressive preservatives that can give that ‘morning after’ headache, allergic reaction or in some cases more severe symptoms like fast heartbeat, dizziness, stomach upset. It can be even life-threatening for people with asthma. Most organic wines contain lower levels of sulphites, so if there are levels indicated on the label just check that it is less than 50 mg / litre for a red and less than 75 mg / litre for a white wine.
Let’s move to the important factor of taste. Do organic wines taste worse?
Blind tests did not show any evidence to support or reject this. There is such a misconception that organic wines taste worse, because sometimes they can display some off-flavours or faults that normally would have been eliminated by sulphites.
Organic wines will not be much different from their conventional analogues, whereas natural wines could appear more cloudy, more rustic and tasting quite unusual – it all depends what you are in the mood for!
What are the benefits of drinking organic?
Common sense tells us that if organic wine contains less toxins (nasty man-made like pesticide residues and more), then it is better for you.
To go beyond your own health, you are also contributing to a cleaner, healthier and more sustainable environment.
We all know that red wine contains resveratrol, which is an antioxidant that protects against cancer, heart disease, is anti-ageing and may even extend your lifespan. You can imagine that pesticides can significantly decrease the potency of any antioxidant. In fact, the French government in 2012 officially released a statement that there is a link between pesticides and Parkinson’s disease in agricultural workers.
There is an ongoing debate on wine, its benefits and harm, whether organic wines are better or not. Regardless of that, many people make a conscious decision to buy organic products not just to better nourish themselves, but also because they are being environmentally responsible. The choice is yours! Please note that you should be drinking responsibly, be it an organic wine or not, check drinkaware.co.uk for more facts and help.
Do organic wines cost more and why?
Even though in theory organic wines are not more costly to produce than their non-organic versions, the fact that something can happen in the vineyard that cannot be remedied by using additives and preservatives, winemakers bear a greater risk of simply producing no acceptable wine that particular season. That is why organic wines can cost slightly more.
How do I know the wine is organic?
There is an extensive array of certification bodies - they exist in different EU countries, North America and beyond. EU’s approved organic logo is green with a white leaf and stars around it. Producers are required to conduct a conversion process of 3 years and then follow a rigorous process of adhering to organic rules and regulations. Certified producers can then display that logo on their wine bottles.
In the UK Soil Association regulates how the country complies with EU legislation, whereas Organic Food Federation looks after a production. In principle, each country has their own rules (generally speaking quite similar, but procedures could be a bit different), so it is interchangeable within EU and can bear a uniform organic logo.
Some producers follow the process but decide not to bother themselves with bureaucracy and paperwork, some decide that it is a bit costly for them as certification bodies also charge producers a fee to display a logo per bottle. That is why it can happen that the producer is organic but either is in the process of conversion or not certified by a regulator body.
Organic Wine Club, how do you select organic wines?
We personally taste every wine we then decide to sell. We assess aromas and flavours based on their typicity to that particular region, their complexity, concentration, the wine’s length of finish and how developed it is.
It is important for us that the wine is exciting. We’d rather have a soft drink than have a glass of a disappointing wine.
Wine is also assessed based on its food matches and how well it suits to different occasions.
Organic Wine Club is all about drinking less but better wines, so we also have a close look on the alcohol strength and generally do not sell still wines over 15.5% abv.
We welcome any questions that you may have and will gladly have a chat or discussion with you. Contact us, cheers