What do we mean, 'organic'?
Organic wines are made from grapes which are cultivated without recourse to synthetic fungicides, herbicides or fertilizers.
To produce a quality wine it is imperative that the base product is sound and we believe that organically-grown grapes have a head start because they are not in a cycle of chemical dependency.
As of new European legislation in 2012, organic wine production from harvest to bottling, is certified, allowing for the addition of the term ‘Organic Wine’ on wine labels from 2012 vintages onwards. The logo with white stars in a leaf shape on green or plain background for European organics, to accompany the fact on the back label.
Good news in many respects for consumers. Some producers however, prefer or choose not to advertise their organic or biodynamic status, that’s fair enough we say (though we’ll always make sure they have certification, and we hold necessary copy certificates here at the office). Being just ‘organic’ by heresay, is not good enough for our business ethics. We think transparency and labelling are crucial.
The organic vineyard - a bug's eye view
In vineyards where the environment is respected and biodiversity encouraged, the vines grow in a living soil, full of worms and bacteria. This enables them to draw upon the optimum levels of minerals from the soil. In turn, these healthy vines develop better resistance to disease and go on to produce fruit for years to come.
Biodiversity is encouraged by planting cover crops between the rows of vines. Not only does this create an eye-catching landscape, but more importantly they bring a host of beneficial visitors. For instance, plum trees are planted in organic vineyards in California to attract Anagrus wasps that then eat the destructive vine leafhoppers, which can cause massive crop damage if not controlled.
Certain biodegradable sprays are used from time to time and there are biological controls such as the planned release of ladybirds which eat vine aphids. Mildew problems may also be managed with salts such as copper sulphate and elemental (not man made) sulphur.
Firmly rooted in the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, biodynamics goes one step beyond organics by looking at the vineyard within the context of the larger environment. Homeopathic sprays and herbal preparations are used along with estate-made composts to increase soil fertility and strengthen and protect the vines from pests and disease. Lunar cycles, earth rhythms and astrology are also employed to ensure that activities in the vineyard are correctly timed. In short, by employing biodynamic principles the grower is aiming to harmonise the rhythm of the vine with its capacity to bear fruit. Increasingly, internationally-renowned estates are using this approach to make better wine with great success.
How do we know it's organic and or biodynamic?
At Vintage Roots our policy is only to stock goods from producers who have paid for and achieved certification, giving them the right to describe themselves as 'organic' or 'biodynamic'. Certification gives us and you a guarantee that no chemical fertilizers, synthetic pesticides or herbicides have been used on the vines.
To gain organic certification, all producers undergo inspection by organisations such as the Soil Association in England, Ecocert in France and the CCOF in California. Standards are rigorously maintained and spot-checks can take place at any time during the year.
The Demeter Association certifies biodynamic vineyards and its symbol can be seen on some of our wines. Please visit www.biodynamics.com for more information on biodynamics.
What is reconversion?
This is the process of converting from a conventionally-maintained vineyard to one that is fully organic. Reconversion for vineyards takes three years because the grapevine is a perennial plant, whereas only two years are required for annual crops like wheat or vegetables. Right from the start of reconversion, the vineyard must be cared for 100% organically. Any non-organic treatments are strictly prohibited and their use would take the estate right back to the beginning again. We think that those who have made the commitment to convert should be fully supported and so we are happy to buy wines from estates which are 'in conversion'.