Before I travel to Montpellier for Millésime Bio Organic Wine fair next week, I searched Google for “organic wine”. The oracle answered back with a riddle, like an old Zen master answering a question with a question, “What does organic wine mean?”
A sensible question to ask before an international organic wine fair. Although, in asking it at all, it reminded me of the days after the Brexit referendum, when we learned the most searched for question in Britain was, “What is the EU?”
“Argh, the B word”, as you splurt out your wine over your metropolitan-elite, wine-drinking ecru walls, “why do we have to involve Brexit in everything?”
Because it is involved with everything, especially wine. Brexit is a “mad riddle,” as Danny Dyer brilliantly put it, and organic wine is one of the most regulated wine styles in Europe. It’s worth stepping back and look at the larger picture when there is a pyromaniacal desire by some in government for a bonfire of regulations.
What does Organic wine mean today?
So here we are. Only 9 weeks to go before the Brexit leaving date, with no plan by the government, and I’m off to an organic wine fair in Europe. A style of wine that is one of the most regulated labels.
If organic wine in France is anything, it is about the rules and regulations. In other words, as Brexiteers would say, organic wine means “red tape.” Is this such a bad thing?
I’m thankful for the strict regulations surrounding organic wine. Seeing the green-leaf EU standard on a bottle of wine is a reassurance of quality. At least I know there has been some thought put into what happens in the vineyard, winery and, hopefully, both.
The late- A.A. Gill in his one of his last posts, described the Brexit argument against the EU and its “red tape” in his own inimitable way:
If you’re really worried about red tape, by the way, it’s not just a European problem. We’re perfectly capable of coming up with our own rules and regulations and we have no shortage of jobsworths. Red tape may be annoying, but it is also there to protect your and my family from being lied to, poisoned and cheated.The Sunday Times Magazine, “Brexit: AA Gill argues for ‘In’” 12 June 2016
Here are the actual words of the regulations to prevent people who buy organic wine from being “lied to, poisoned and cheated”. For those who find Brexit boring by now – and this complex and immense subject is going around and around in circles – here is the (unapologetically boring) facts on organic wine.
Organic Viticulture: the European Union Regulations
Organic production is regulated throughout the European Union, since 1991, under regulation (EC) 834/2007, “Principles for organic production and labelling”, which defines rules for production, processing, distribution, importation, control, certification and labelling of organic products. This is further completed by regulation (EC) 889/2008, “Applicable rules for organic production”.
Organic agriculture is defined as “a system of agricultural management and food production, combining best environmental practices, a high level of diversity, the preservation of natural resources, the application of high standards of animal well-being and a production method based on natural methods and substances.” (Recital 1 of regulation (EC) 834/2007).
In France, Organic Agriculture (AB) is a sign of quality. The INAO (National Institute of Origin and Quality) is in charge of applying organic regulations.
Definition of Organic Viticulture
The principle of organic vineyard management is based on a global approach to vine/soil/environment, and on maintaining this balance.
• Organic production prohibits use of synthetic chemicals and GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). The implementation of prophylactics (preventives) to reduce the sensitivity of crops to pest attacks is compulsory prior to using natural products for plant protection or biological control. In addition, management of adventitious matter* is mechanical (tillage, mulching, hand weeding, etc.).
• Organic production maintains and improves soil fertility, favour biodiversity and preserve water quality. Organic production implies the use of natural fertilisers only, such as green manure or compost.
Thus, the fact that organic viticulture uses no chemical products systematically entails an increase in labour resources: observation time in vineyard to anticipate intervention, mechanical rather than chemical management of adventitious matter, etc… This generally leads to an increase in production costs (variable, depending on environmental conditions).
Definition of Organic Vinification
Organic Vinification Wine production is subject firstly to European legislation: “Common Market Organisation for Wine” (CMO wine: regulation (EC) 479/2008) and procedural requirements for oenological practices (regulation (EC) 606/2009). Since the 8th February 2012, rules for organic vinification have been added to the European organic regulation (EC) 834/2007, enabling certification of winemaking, and no longer just for grapes.
The rules for organic vinification came into effect on the 1st August, 2012. Requirements are same for all European countries. They are based on 4 key points from the CMO for wine: • 100% of all agricultural ingredients used must be certi ed as organic: grapes, sugar, alcohol, rectified concentrated must (RCM). • Restrictions or interdictions on use of certain physical procedures (e.g.: dealcoholisation, electrodialysis, filtration using a media with pores of < 0.2 μm, are all forbidden practices).
• Respect of a restricted list of additives and oenological auxilia- ries (organic origin favoured for some).
• Restrictions on total SO2 level in wine sold.
There we have it. At least for the consumer, it’s difficult to disagree with the need for red tape in organic wine to ensure the integrity of the label. I’m hugely looking forward to visiting the Millésime Bio wine fair next week to taste more.
Image: Marc Chagall
More: Millésime Bio