The increase in the consumption of organic wines is more than for non-organic wines. It leads to the question whether that is the main reason why cellars produce organic wines, or do they do it for scientific reasons to be more environmental friendly In Europe the indication “organic wine” may not be used on wine labels and although it is permitted in the USA certain prescriptions regarding the cultivation of organic grapes and winemaking must be complied with. South African wine regulations also do not address organic wines and local cellars interested in selling organic wines must comply with foreign certification bodies’ prescriptions to obtain organic accreditation. These requirements differ between the different bodies.

In spite of differences and illegibility regarding organic wines consensus exists that it must be made from organic grapes. The prescriptions applicable to organic grapes are mostly scientifically based.

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Organic cultivation.

Plants do not take up organic molecules from the soil, but minerals are taken up. Whether an organic or non-organic fertiliser is used it must be converted to mineral before it can be taken up. The breakdown of organic nitrogen sources requires a diversity of soil microbes and will encourage a diverse and higher population of micro flora and micro fauna. Organic fertilisers are also not produced in factories and occur in different natural forms like manures, guano, plant material, fish emulsions, blood, bone meal and others. Such natural sources contain proteins, amino acids and mineral forms of nitrogen which can, together with other minerals, serve as nutrients for plants. The production of ammonium based fertiliser from atmospheric nitrogen requires much energy, obtained from the combustion of fossil fuel, which has a considerable impact on the environment. This is unacceptable from a social and environmental viewpoint. Except for nitrogen the other minerals originate from deposits in the earth’s crust. Potassium is added as potassium sulphate or potassium chloride, which are mined and grounded. If it is thus not produced in a factory it can actually be described as organic.

A wide array of synthetic products is available to protect vines from common fungal diseases and insect pests, but only a handful of organic materials are available. Fortunately the production of the synthetic products became so specialised, that toxic compounds like organophosphates, carbamates and others were phased out. New fungicides are developed annually and can consequently be rotated to reduce the risk of building resistance in the pathogens. Most of the new products are systemic, which allow for longer intervals between applications. Except, sulphur, there are only a few products which can be used as fungicides and the most are commercial bacteria or fungi biological control.

New synthetic insecticides have not been developed to the same extent as fungicides and the most are neonicotinoids. They are also systemic products which have a limited toxic effect on bigger animals but very effective against above- and below-surface pests. The insecticides suitable for organic cultivation are, however, very limited and not of a systemic nature.

Weed control is a major issue for organic cultivation, because no effective, organic herbicide is available. Tillage is consequently the only practical solution, but multiple passes through a vineyard are expensive with high fuel consumption. The latter is not environmental friendly. Although herbicides are apparently not harmful to soil microbes, the absence of plant growth will definitely influence the micro population and spectrum. Organic growers have to decide whether the high cost of tillage is worth the results obtained (Greenspan, 2014).

Although organic wines must in all cases be made from organic grapes the legal definition of organic wines differs between countries. The differences are mainly based on the use, or prohibition of preservatives used during winemaking. Sulphur dioxide is the preservative which is mostly used during winemaking and the maximum levels allowed determine, in most cases, the definition of organic wines. Terms like “organic wine”, “made with organic grapes”, “no added sulphites” and “contains sulphites” which appear on wine labels can consequently be very confusing to the general consumer and consumers must ensure that they are not misled by such label claims.

Reference

Greenspan, Mark. 2014. Going Organic. Wine Business Monthly, July 2014: 46 – 48.

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