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What really is organic wine?

September 13, 2019

What really is organic wine?

What is organic wine?

Ok, So this is never the easiest question to answer… In the USA wine can only legally be called organic if no sulfites are added during the winemaking process - although they can add “made with organic grapes” if they have added Sulfites. Sulfites for those that don’t know is an inclusive name for Sulfur Dioxide, a naturally occurring preservative that is used to minimise the negative effects oxygen has on wine. These Sulfides increase a wines lifespan. So with that in mind, it makes sense that New Zealand, Australia & the European Union all allow small amounts of Sulfites to be added during the bottling and winemaking process and still be called Organic Wine.

Organic wines are becoming more popular with winemakers and as trendy as ever with consumers. There are a few key differences that make them different from “conventional” wines. With Organic wines (as mentioned above) Sulfites are used at bare minimum quantities & often not at all. However the most important distinction and one with no leeway is that no synthetic pesticides or additives are permitted at any part of the process. Organic winemakers must work with nature to nourish and protect their grapes without the help of often harmful synthetic chemicals.

Organics often “employ” the help of some barnyard animals to help maintain a healthy micro ecosystem within the vineyard. These can be geese or ducks (like the ones at Pegasus Bay) and sheep, cows or donkeys all to help hinder weeds from growing in the vineyards. Did you know that Yealands in Marlborough even tried to selectively breed Dolly sheep with shorter legs so they could be in their vineyards all year round without eating the grapes!? It didn’t work too well but that’s another story!  

The introduction of prey into the vineyards can also be common practice, this can be friendly insects that eliminate pests or like In New Zealand birds of prey. The threatened species of New Zealand falcon called Karearea has been introduced into some vineyards to help combat the negative impacts introduced birds have in the vineyards especially around harvest time. 

Organic wines are certified by a number of local bodies around the world whose logo will appear on the bottle if they meet all the strict regulations. In New Zealand the most common certification is BioGro. This does not mean that wineries without the logo on their bottles are not producing wine following the organic guidelines. It simply means they are not certified organic. 

Some wineries in New Zealand choose to follow organic practices without being certified for a number of reasons. These usually because the time and costs of the certification process is too much or there is a disagreement with one or two of the local bodies regulations. As a consumer, look for the BioGro logo on New Zealand wines to be sure the wines are organic But remember some of your favourite wines might be making wines organically without the certification and the only way to be sure is to ask someone or do a little research yourself. 

New Zealand Organic Wine Week 2019 - A celebration of certified organic NZ wine

Thanks to the success of last years Organic wine week in September, the Organic Winegrowers New Zealand (OWNZ for short) have decided to make the celebration an annual event. Of course Specialist Cellars are thrilled to be involved again with our Get Dirty 2.0 event but more on that later. 

Firstly for those unaware, the definition of what makes a wine Organic is fairly simple….. No no, we’re just joking it can get a little tricky between organic wine and certified organic wines. However the main principle is that the wine must be produced with grapes that were organically grown. This means not using artificial chemicals for during any stage. According to New Zealand’s leading Organic certifier BioGro, the Organic winemaking “is a holistic style of farming where the health of the soil and environment is prioritised, including the surrounding flora and fauna.''  

So what can we expect from Organic wine week 2019? 

From the 16th to the 22nd of September OWNZ will be celebrating New Zealand Organic Wine week in partnership with a number of restaurants, online stores and wine shops in New Zealand & the UK. The events will be predominantly consumer focused and will showcase more than 30 organic wineries that are directly involved in the celebrations over the week.

What is Specialist Cellars doing to celebrate?

Well we’re glad you asked, We are once again hosting a “Get Dirty” tasting featuring some of the country’s most talented producers - Jack Weaver from Churton, Rudi Bauer from Quartz Reef, Claudio Heye from Domaine Thomson and Nick Mills from Rippon. 

The tasting will be in pop Brixton from 6 - 8pm where you will get an opportunity to taste first hand the quality that organic practices can and do produce in New Zealand wine. After the tasting you will also get access to the winemakers and can ask them any of your questions you may have from the event. 

Why should you consider drinking Organic Wines?

The first reason is for transparency, with certified organic wines you know exactly what’s in your glass because of the restrictions on any artificial chemicals from within the vines to the working winery. 

The next reason should be the most interesting one for consumers. With Organic wine making the priority for the viticulturist team is to ensure that the vines and the soil’s ecosystem is as healthy as they possibly can be. The reason for this is because Organic farmers take a preventative approach to problems that may occur in the vineyard. Unlike “conventional” farmers, Organic farmers do not have harsh chemicals to use as weapons to fight problems in the vineyard so it is better to make sure they don’t occur in the first place. 

As a consumer this generally means that the grapes and vines of organic producers are as healthy as they can be. Which in turn creates great wines to drink - you know what they say...“You can’t make great wine without great grapes”. 

The next important factor to consider is the environment. Organics has less negative impacts on the environment than conventional winemaking. Organic fertilizers don’t use fossil fuels in their production and Organic vineyards also store more carbon in the soil which helps counteract climate change. 

For a country like New Zealand that relies on its clean green image and “Pure New Zealand” brand, climate change and environmental issues should be important. The good thing for New Zealanders is it seems to be an issue that wineries do care about. Over 10% of New Zealand’s winerys are certified organic, what makes this stat even more promising is the mix of large acclaimed wine labels and boutique producers that are being certified. Central Otago is the region with the most conversions. Right now 23% of all the wineries in Central Otago are practicing organics! 

Now is the time to celebrate the amazing work these New Zealand winerys are doing to build a sustainable winegrowing future. Get your tickets for the organic Get Dirty 2.0 event here & visit OWNZ for more information here.    

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