Vintage Roots' Selection of Organic and Biodynamic Wines

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BLOG PART 2

Traceability

Organic certification is the world’s most widely-used, secure and impermeable traceability system. Every single certified product can be traced back to its precise origin. For example, a bottle of certified wine can be traced back to the exact vineyard in which its grapes originated. The certification process makes sure every stage in the ‘chain of custody’ between the producer and the consumer is secure and meets certified organic requirements. The certification process includes checking a producer’s Organic Management Plan as well as conducting an annual audit.

The information below shows the depth of detail for Ecocert certification and traceability process.

The traceability information below shows the depth of detail that is required for Ecocert certification.

  • Origin of raw materials: requirements and records
  • ORGANIC RAW MATERIALS:

– List and current certificates of suppliers of organic products (grapes, sugar…).

– Organic guarantees: nature of organic products and indication of the Control Body on invoices, delivery orders and labels.

– When applicable: subcontractor statements; import authorizations, certificates of inspection when imported from third countries.

  • NON-ORGANIC RAW MATERIALS:

– Technical sheets (additives, processing aids, substances or products used in wine-making)

– GM- and radiation-free statements

– Statements on water drinkability

  • Receipt of incoming organic raw materials

– Check that containers and packaging are sealed and that organicreferences are clearly displayed

– In case of suspected non-compliance of a product, operators should have procedures in place to deal with suspicious product (separation, withdrawal, downgrading…)

  • Identification

All necessary measures should be taken to ensure identification of lots

– Storage of organic raw materials and finished products should be separated in place from non-organic products in an area with clear boundaries (e.g. floor marking, tank identification etc…)

  • Dispatch and transport of finished and/or semi-finished products

– Products shall be transported in closed containers, vehicles or packaging

– Supporting documents: labels, delivery orders, invoices should bear the

mandatory organic references

  • Stock and financial records

Records should be kept and available at all times to allow the control body to

identify the origin, nature, quantities and consignees of all bought/incoming,

processed, stored, sold and downgraded products (invoices, delivery orders,

manufacturing sheets etc…)

Halfway house or misleading?

You may well have heard or seen of other ‘stamps’ or accreditations on wine which offer lesser guarantees on production methods. Similar to ‘free range’ with foods, they are indeed a step in the right direction, but in no way comparable to full organic certification. Two examples are “lutte raisonnée” and “terra vitis”.

Other terms, such as eco-friendly, natural or green can often be meaningless or downright fraudulently misleading. Rightly called ‘greenwash’ these terms are often used by marketeers to extract some extra margin and sales from unwitting consumers.

Lutte Raisonée “Reasoned Struggle”

This method of farming appears mainly in France and other European countries. There is no certification for this method or yearly audit. It is the vineyard owner who recognises the importance of sustainability and the bio diversity of the vineyard. The grower will only intervene in the vineyard if it is an absolute necessity. Lutte Raisonnée may well be very close to organic farming, however there are no rules and no independent checks to ensure that correct practices are being followed. This semi-organic approach can be quite easy especially in good weather years.

‘Terra Vitis’, on the other hand, does inspect its members who are expected to provide complete traceability of their working practices but here producers are allowed to use pesticides when justified. So again, in no way organic.

There are some variations on the above themes, including some form of regulation, for example a system called agriculture raisonée (AR) which, for viticulture, comes in the form of a 90-point specification, issued by FARRE, the national association of agriculture raisonée. Some of the points are obligatory, others not. In addition, producers can be third-party certified in AR, or not, as they choose

While agriculture raisonée allows the use of synthetic chemicals, whereas organic and biodynamic use only natural treatments, including sulphur and copper, the benefits are that the system considers more than just the vineyard plot: it incorporates the triumvirate of economic viability, human health and protection of the environment.

However, it is still a ‘light’ control. It is difficult to have much confidence in a non-certified system which is open to misuse.

A Burgundian initative referred to as ‘The Paysage de Corton’ project aims to cover the 100 domaines on the hill of Corton in three villages – Pernand-Vergelesses, Aloxe-Corton and Ladoix-Serrigny – covering a thousand hectares of vineyard and non-vineyard land. The 1,000 hectares of the hill comprises 550ha of vineyards, the rest is roads, forest, buildings etc, but the initiative aims to get the whole landscape working holistically.  The aim is to manage the territory intelligently, and not alone. For example, by creating more hedgerow corridors from high to low points it helps wildlife circulate on the hill of Corton and also encourages biodiversity.

Sustainable is also organic

Many farmers take additional steps beyond standard organic winemaking to apply sustainable farming practices. Examples include the use of composting and the cultivation of plants that attract insects that are beneficial to the health of the vines. Sustainable practices in these vineyards also extend to actions that have seemingly little or nothing to do with the production of grapes, such as providing areas for wildlife in the form of biodiversity corridors, planted near or on the edges of vineyards, or with wildflowers and nitrogen fixing plants sewn between the rows of vines themselves. An abundance of plants, animals and insects in, or close to a vineyard, will help maintain balance, soil health and ultimately protect against loss of grapes, or outbreak of serious disease and pest attack. Sustainable farmers may use bio-diesel for tractors in the vineyards to reduce emissions among the vines, or plough with horses.

Sustainable wine making is a systems perspective of integration of the natural and human resources, involving environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity. It requires small, realistic, and measurable steps as defined for example in the Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices Workbook published by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA).

Biodynamics is an agricultural approach developed by Rudolf Steiner in Germany during the 1920s as a response to mainly farmers’ concerns about the deteriorating quality of their crops and soils. Rather than using industrial chemicals and fertilizers that were becoming increasingly prescribed, Steiner introduced the idea of applying composts, manures, herbal, and mineral preparations in order to reconstitute the life of soils for a more sustainable type of farming.  This holistic method considers all aspects of the farm—the land, plants, animals, and people—as a connected ecosystem. In the purest sense, it seeks to treat all aspects of this living system locally by using only the farm’s resources to promote growth and renewal. Using the positions of the planets and in particular the moon, comes very much into importance with all vineyard tasks and applications. Biodynamics is stricter and more involved than organic, and hence often referred to as ‘super-organic’

There are many sustainable ‘marks’ in wine production, and doing something is better than doing nothing. Doing organic or biodynamic certification is by us the best though.

Sustainable winegrowing practices help to protect the soil, the air and the water – all are elements that bring a vibrancy and personality into grapes and their resulting wines. Being good stewards of the land is a vital principle for each and every day. Adopting environmentally and socially responsible practices and making them an integral part of how business is conducted helps to ensure the health of the land, the community and the industry for future generations.

Other practices are just as critical including the prevention of soil erosion, managing water supplies and runoff, constructing more efficient buildings and reducing transportation emissions. Champagne growers, for example, have managed to reduce their carbon footprint of each bottle by 15% since 2003, even as production has increased – thanks in part to new bottles that weigh 7% less. Small steps all help when done on a big scale.

Another example – Since 1999, LIVE has independently certified the sustainable practices of winegrowers in the Pacific Northwest USA, using university research and internationally accredited standards.

  • Preservation — Native habitat, watershed quality, and wildlife are protected and improved through rigorous biodiversity requirements and whole-farm certification.
  • Social Issues — Worker health and safety standards and good neighbour policies are an important function of our rigorous vineyard and winery standards.
  • Certification — Cutting-edge third-party certifications that address issues ranging from energy and greenhouse gas reduction, to water and waste management, to materials sourcing.
  • Community — A healthy, vibrant community that actively works to improve the quality of the natural and built environments in which they live and work.

 

The current market especially Natural Wines

Natural wines are experiencing a marked growth in popularity here in the UK especially with many consumers seeking a healthier lifestyle. The last 5 or 6 years has seen a marked rise in the number of natural wines available be they in independent wine shops or even natural wine themed wine bars. There is growing concern generally about the levels of artificial additives in our food and drink, and the negative effects they can have on our health. As a result, there has been a resurgence of naturally produced foods, with farm shops and organic outlets also witnessing real growth over the last few years.

Most people by now are aware that the term “natural” is totally unregulated & uncertified when the term is used when referring to food and drink. Nevertheless, there are a growing number of quality wine makers who proclaim that their wines are ‘natural’. However, there is no legal definition of what is involved and who is policing this. The guidelines set out by these growers proclaim that their wine follows organic practice with an even more sympathetic approach to the winemaking i.e. minimal or no intervention in the cellar. Hands-off winemaking it maybe but none of this is regulated.

Decanter magazine recently adopted their own criteria for natural wines:

  • Vineyards farmed organically or biodynamically – certification was strongly preferred, but uncertified wines were accepted
    • Hand-harvested only
    • Fermentation with indigenous (wild) yeasts
    • No enzymes
    • No additives added (such as acid, tannin, colouring) other than SO2
    • SO2 levels no higher than 70mg/l total
    • Unfined, and no (or light) filtration
    • No other heavy manipulation (such as spinning cone, reverse osmosis, cryoextraction, rapid-finishing, Ultraviolet C irradiation)

Similarly, the RAW wine fair charter specifies organic or biodynamic viticulture, use of natural yeast only, no technical manipulation and only low levels of sulphites (with no other additives). This specifies a maximum of 70mg/l compared to EU limits of 150mg/l to 400mg/l depending on wine style. RAW wine believe that natural wines are an authentic expression of a place and that they are at the forefront of a drive for more transparency as to what additives and/or processes a wine has been submitted to.

Natural wines are produced without the addition of chemicals, preservatives, added sugars and artificial yeasts. They are crafted by passionate producers in order to show the true flavours of the grape and to reflect the terroir of their vineyard origins. Authenticity is their byword. Many wines do contain small sulphites additions, although some are made with no addition of So2 at all.

But while the “natural wines” category might well be good news for the consumer looking for quality, chemical-free well-made wines, it is also at great risk of misrepresentation since there is no legal definition. The category is open to abuse, deliberate or otherwise from producers and retailers looking to benefit from the current interest in this growing category.

The key question is what ‘natural’ means when it comes to winemaking? As we have seen and unlike terms such as ‘organic‘ and ‘biodynamic‘, there is no legal definition nor certifying standard.  In essence, it is a self-proclaimed movement of winemakers who wish to make wine without ‘chemicals’ or additives and with as little manipulation as possible.  Natural winemaking centres on a philosophy of low intervention, driven by the desire to fight back against what is seen by many as the industrialisation & standardisation of wine. However, it is abundantly clear that modern technology has allowed decent, affordable wine to be produced much more consistently than used to be the case.

It might be a surprise to many consumers when they learn just how many permitted additives and processing aids can be involved in today’s global winemaking industry. One bizarre anomaly of EU law is that wine is exempt from having to list ingredients on the label, apart from the recent requirement to declare certain potential allergens like sulphites if over 10mg/l or, since the 2012 vintage, eggs or milk products used for clarification if residues are over 0.25mg/l.

While winemakers would all love to be able to simply put grapes in a tank, let the fermentation occur naturally and bottle the result, reality tells us that grapes, being an agricultural product, almost never arrive at the winery in perfect condition. So much depends on the weather, disease pressure and problems with pests.

However, wine itself is only an intermediate stage on the route to vinegar, and without human intervention, it would in most cases not exist. It is here that the almost universal additive, sulphur dioxide, plays its important role – that of an antioxidant and antiseptic. It has been used in winemaking for millenia. Even organic certification companies recognise the multiple usefulness of SO2, and indeed permit its use, though within stricter guidelines than for ‘conventional’ wine. In recent years an increasing number of organic wine producers are making quality wines without adding any sulphites at all, this requires top quality grapes and careful wine making techniques. Vintage Roots has expanded it’s range of organic’ No sulphur Added’ wines to well over twenty five and they are now amongst some of the most popular wines we sell.

Let us not forget, the first duty of wine is to give pleasure to the drinker, but it also needs to be produced sustainably and responsibly. Look for the certification mark on your chosen bottle, and remember just because the merchant or re-seller says it is organic, it may not be the case!       

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We are an award winning, independent wine merchant, sourcing great organic wines and other drinks.


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