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Welcome to the Month of Organic Wine

In a world where climate change is a scary reality, 1 billion people are malnourished, 2 billion people are overweight or obese, unhealthy diets have been linked to illnesses and health issues and waste is at an all-time high, thinking “locally” and promoting the use of organic products has never been so important.

Let’s briefly define organic. Organic is a system of farming and food production using methods aimed at producing great quality food in a way that is beneficial to everyone, from people to the planet.

The 5 key elements of organic agriculture and farming practices are:

  1. Lesser use of pesticides, in particular chemical or fossil ones

  2. Higher animal welfare standards

  3. No use of antibiotics unless necessary

  4. No GMO ingredients to feed animals

  5. No artificial colours and preservatives

The production of organic products is regulated by strict legal requirements: a food or drink can be labelled ‘organic’ only if it contains at least 95% of organically produced plants or animals.

But what is organic wine specifically?

A wine can be defined organic when it meets requirements on pesticide use, land management, preservation and storage.

Of the 300 pesticides that the EU allow to use, only 20 are permitted under organic standards, and of these only 2 are entirely derived from natural ingredients*. A good way to contrast pesticide is planting ‘cover crops’ in between the vines: they naturally attract grapes predators and help to create a self-regulating ecosystem – wildlife is in fact 50% higher in organic vineyards compared to non-organic.

Organic farming encourages strong root structures and a healthy, biologically active soil, as opposed to intensive farming which has devastating consequences on the land. For example, to meet the 500 million bottles a year global demand, Northern Italy Prosecco producers have seen an estimated 400.000 tonnes of soil lost every year, not to mention dryness at summer and landslides at the first torrential rain.

How to overcome the need for preservatives?

“Keeping it local” may become a necessity in the next few years, as some form of preservative is needed to ensure wine quality during storage and transportation. While sulphites naturally occur in wine due to the fermentation process, sulphur dioxide is artificially added to extend the shelf-life of each bottle and prevent the oxidation process. Sulphur dioxide is not always tolerated by the human body and some people can experience mild or severe allergic reactions to it.

In terms of naturally produced wines, a new trend developed over the last few years: the rise of biodynamic wines. How do they differ from organic ones?

They both share the same principles when it comes to pesticides and herbicides, but biodynamic growers tend to adopt a more “philosophical” ethos in their farming, as they consider agricultural sites as holistic organisms. They plant according to the phases of the moon and have a strong focus on composting and recycling material, to create a close-loop system with minimal external inputs.

Why should you consider buying organic?

Yes, organic products are slightly more expensive and in short supply, but are produced using systems that are kinder to the planet. An extra quid can really help us to help ourselves and our future, rather than only focusing on taste.

So, bottoms up this September with a glass of organic English sparkling wine!

*Until December 2021, the UK will still apply EU standards/requirements for the certification of organic products, with the exception of the European green leaf as an identifying logo.

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