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The mystery unwrapped

What is an organic wine?

Quite simply organic wines are wine made for grapes that are grown organically in the same way organic vegetables are grown. This means the grapes need to be produced without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides or other artificial chemicals. However, this doesn't mean organic wines don't contain additives and preservatives such as sulfites or the grapes aren't grown with chemical fertilizers. These are naturally occurring or by-products of natural processes and therefore can be used in the production of organic wine. This is where biodynamic and natural wines have a distinct difference to organic wines (but we'll save all that for another time!).

In New Zealand, in order for a producer to gain organic status and therefore the right to use this term on their wine labels, they must qualify for organic certification. This can be obtained through independent auditing providers such as BioGro and AsureQuality. In order to gain that certification they must first prove they have been following organic practices for at least 3 years and are subject to annual audits in order to retain their organic status - in short, it's no small commitment to make.


In the Vineyard

Healthy soils are key to healthy vines but without the use of chemicals how do grape growers maintain pest and disease free vines with optimal yield without the help of synthetic chemicals? When it comes to soil and vine health building and maintaining a high level of organic matter and humus is key. This often relies on utilizing natural products such and manure and compost and for this reason many organic grape growers also adopt biodynamic methods and processes. Mineral and liquid fertilizers may be applied but all inputs must be certified organic and come from natural sources such as rock dusts and seaweeds.

Cultivating or mowing under the vines to manage weeds allows growers to encourage helpful insects such as earthworms to flourish and reduces dependency on herbicides. Many vineyards use sheep to keep grass and weed levels down between the rows with the added benefit of manure being added back into the soil as they go. And rather than using insecticides, many growers even outside of the organic sector, cultivate crops designed to attract beneficial insects employed to keep pests at bay.


In the Winery

In order to maintain certification organic wine producers must ensure all winemaking processes adhere to the same criteria as the vineyard - that is all chemical agents used in the winemaking process must be certified organic and come from natural sources. While other countries such as the US do not allow the use of any sulfites in the production of organic wine, New Zealand does. However, the threshold for the amount used is lower than that of a wine that isn't labelled as organic. Wineries must also avoid cleaning agents made with chemicals that are not deemed organic and instead maintain hygiene and sterility through the use of certified organic products, hot water and steam.

What does an organic wine in a glass look like?

Outside of the feel-good factor, organic has very little bearing on quality and taste once a wine is in the glass. It's nice to know a wine has been produced with a thoughtful approach to the environment but ultimately it is down to the winemaker as to whether it taste good or not regardless of how the grapes have been grown. However, if you are going to all the trouble of gaining and maintaining organic certification on your vineyard chances are you are a wine producer that places quality over quantity and other.

What is

An Organic Price Tag?

Organic wine has a reputation for being expensive (or at least more expensive than its non-organic counterparts) but why is that and is it really worth the extra money? In fairness it takes a significant commitment to maintain organic status and with that comes the added running costs - higher wage costs for higher skilled workers, higher cost of goods on organic fertilizers and pesticides - the list goes on.

Chemical free methods for minimizing the risk or spread of disease and pests in the vineyard can also mean lower fruit volumes and lower yields mean a higher cost of production. But with organic wine becoming more mainstream and larger produces getting on board the organic wine bandwagon they are becoming evermore accessible and economies of scale mean there are organic wines now being produced at a commercial level and sold at a much more accessible price.

Wines such as the Villa Maria Earth Garden range, the Little Goat Creek wines from Marlborough and the Le Bistro Montmija from France are all great examples of organic wines that are now readily available at a price point that won't break the bank.

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