Jane MacQuitty: organic wine is on the up
The standard is improving, but there needs to be a standardisation of regulations.
The organic sector, worth almost £2 billion, was up by 5 per cent last year, the third consecutive year of growth, and is likely to grow more than 5 per cent in 2016, according to a report from the Soil Association. Wine makes up a tiny percentage of the total, but supermarkets list more organic bottles than ever, with Waitrose, Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s leading the way with 66, 10 and 6 respectively.
To judge from my inbox, most of you seek out organic wines for the sake of your and the planet’s health. Others feel that organic wines taste better. In my experience that’s not always true; organic wine quality has improved dramatically over the past decade, but a fair few are still either dull or feral and yeasty, with the grubby flavours that gave the bottles a bad name in the 1980s.
What also continues to grate is the lack of global organic wine regulations, which differ from country to country and from one organic wine certification authority to the next. In theory, organic wine should be made from grapes grown in an organic vineyard, without the use of industrial herbicides, fungicides, pesticides and fertilisers. In practice, Bordeaux mixture, copper sulphate and sulphur — the wine trade’s all-purpose cleaner, disinfectant and preservative — is used in organic wine production.
It takes three years for a vineyard to convert to and be certified as organic. Scattered vineyards in hot, dry, windy areas such as the Rhône, Languedoc-Roussillon and Provence stand a better chance than those in cool, damp, northern areas where rot and mildew attacks are common.
It’s hard to disagree though with Martin Nittnaus, of Burgenland in Austria, who claims that organic methods are “a more natural way: my vines are more resistant to disease and my wines have richer, more floral aromas”.