A new look at organic wine


It’s official – from now on, organic wines will be sold with an official EU label to prove they meet new standards set throughout the European Union’s wine-growing countries. The new rules were born on August 1, just in time for the new vintage.

Until now, only grapes could be certified as ‘organic’, so ‘wine made from organic grapes’ was the only official description allowed. That left a question mark over how the wine was made – after all, there are many tricks that winemakers can play with the raw material. Many consumers wanted more, and were particularly concerned about sulphite levels. Sulphites occur naturally, but are added as a preservative to stop wine oxidizing – think about what happens when you cut an apple, and it goes brown. Add too much, and people get headaches.

So, the new rules are intended to make a clear difference between conventional and organic wine. They specify a maximum set at 100 mg per litre for red wine, against 150 mg for conventional wine, and 150 mg per litre for white and rose wine (200 mg for conventional wine).

The new scheme was a long time coming. European Commission farm chief Dacian Ciolos withdrew his first proposal in 2010 in the face of opposition from countries including Germany and Austria, which were unhappy about such low sulphite levels. But consumer pressure has finally paid off, and a new package was finally agreed in February. 

Many wineries in France think the new rules are far too lax on what can be added or subtracted from wine. Those who work under private certification schemes such as Demeter or Biodyvin are not impressed, as they go well beyond the requirements set in the new rules. All of this will be reopened in negotiations set to start in 2015. 

Meanwhile, for those interested in purchasing wines that are organic, or ‘bio’, as they put it in Francophone countries, here are some tips to navigate the maze of labels, including those in supermarkets. 
• The green AB label is the best known. This means the wine is made from grapes that are grown organically – but doesn’t say anything about how it was made.
• The Demeter label comes in two versions, one for grapes grown organically, as before, the other for wines produced under the very strict rules of biodynamic wine production. 
• The Biodyvin label certifies both the grapes and the wine-making process are organic.
• The Nature et Progress label guarantees the wine is made of organic grapes.
• Finally, the EcoCert label guarantees wine made of organic or biodynamic grapes.

Expect to find the new EU label on bottles (possibly as well as the above) from the 2012 vintage onwards. But it’s worth knowing that not all producers who make their wine organically and vinify organically take the trouble to go through the certification procedure – they are busy enough as it is trying to make their wine as good as possible. 

That’s why it’s good to get advice from a reliable wine merchant. In Belgium, there’s one that has made a specialty of sourcing the best in bio wines. BioBelVin have a great range and often hold tastings at their Spa-based shop. Well worth a visit, but also available online. 

Since i’m currently in Alsace, here are a couple of wines from that region that are worth a try, both stocked by BioBelVin. Try anything from the Kreydenweiss range, with beautiful paintings as their labels. Wines by Sylvie Spielmann too are a delight. Elsewhere, look for stockists of wines by Andre Ostertag or from Zind Humbrecht. Both of the latter are firm in their adherence to biodynamic principles.