Organic fruit and veg has been big business for a long time - but why has organic wine lagged behind? And is it worth it?
It's a muddy issue, but I'm here to get my hands dirty and delve in, so you don't have to!
At its most simple, organic wine is wine produced from organically grown grapes, and without the addition of sulphur dioxide during winemaking. But what in the wine industry is ever that straightforward? (German wine labelling, I'm looking at you!) As usual you've got a simple concept made complicated by too many different people making too many different laws.
In the EU, organic viticulture laws don't cover the production or labelling of organic wine. That's why you'll see bottles with varying symbols identifying them as organic.
The USA and Australia even distinguish between two categories: 'Organic Wine' on the one hand, and 'Wine made from organically grown grapes' on the other. In case you were wondering, the difference is to do with the addition of sulphur dioxide during winemaking.
Speaking of sulphur - and I could almost write a whole new blog on that topic alone - suffice to say here that organic wines will generally still have added sulphites, though at lower levels than those permitted for non-organic wines (usually about 2/3 of the amount). The reason sulphites are used so commonly in winemaking is for their anti-spoilage properties: they keep the wine tasting the way it's supposed to when it reaches you.
All this is enough to give you a headache (something which, organic wine is alleged not to do by the way)
So how do you grow grapes organically? Broadly speaking, you grow without manmade fertilisers, fungicides, pesticides, or anything GM. Natural substances and remedies for vineyard problems are used instead of chemicals, for example, the use of canopy management (that's 'clever leaf pruning' to the rest of us) to avoid problems like rot; even animals like sheep (notably in New Zealand) might graze your vineyard area as an alternative to herbicides, munching away at unwanted vegetation and providing a free source of organic manure!
These days it's much more common to see wine producers thinking more carefully about what they put on their vineyards, and far more are practicing organically than you might realise - for one thing, many decide not to seek any kind of formal organic certification. And it's easily forgotten that once upon a time, what we now call 'conventional' viticulture (i.e. with the use of artificial substances) was utterly unknown, and organic viticulture was the only available option!