Friday, 11 September 2009

Organic Wine - inevitable?

Shaun Hill, one of Britain’s finest chefs and restaurateur, wrote a few years ago in his book How to Cook Better that “organic is good, but not all good things are organic”. He was talking about buying vegetables and fruit, but as far as wine is concerned there may be a long way to go.

Simplistically I observe the evolution of organic wine production as having three ages: -
  1. Early enthusiasts. Here organic production is mainly by newcomers to grape growing and wine production. Results are mixed, mainly due to inexperience.

  2. Leaders convert. Established growers set out to become organic. Commercially this will add value by giving the wine a marketing edge; but for many producers I’d like to think it’s simply a case of being the right thing to do in the quest for a better environment – after all their families live and work in their vineyards.

  3. Organic is the norm, where consumers expect their purchases to be organic and not being so is a distinct disadvantage.
In the Languedoc at least, age two is now an irreversibly underway as evidenced by domains such as Aupilhac, Mas Bruguiere, Virgil Joly and Alain Chabanon. Julia’s post on the Montpellier organic wine fair suggests there are now over 300 certified producers in the Languedoc.

Personally there’s another key aspect. As someone who loves to walk and cycle in vinelands, then the sight of vines on scorched earth and skeletons of dead plants is, frankly, sad and repulsive. Just as serious is the impact of the weed killers responsible on my foraging for salade sauvage.

Of course things are never black and white. Many producers are effectively organic but haven’t become certified because they would like the option to spray in an emergency – the emergency being the otherwise severe cut in quality grape production and hence income. Then there’s time and all that certification paperwork. Growers who don’t use weed killers will at least have more natural looking vineyards and keep my eyes happier.

Will we ever get to stage three? That will depend on consumers so in general no, but for fine wine maybe.

Do organic wines taste better? I haven’t tasted enough to comment, but most I’ve had recently have been fine and do possess a purity about them. Much has been written, but one point that seems key is that organic wines need skilled winemaking as there is less scope for the winemaker to manipulate the final product. This, and consumer apathy, could leave many producers struggling to make it to the first age.

Scorched earth

1 comment:

  1. Just found your EXHAUSTIVE, thoroughly entertaining blog - wonderful resource for us as we are renting a house in St. Genies de Fontedit for a month - Sept 10-Oct 9. Perhaps you could tell me about special events in the area at this time. In any case, thanks for a wonderful read!!!!(After Languedoc, driving to Tuscany for the second year to pick grapes for a friend.We share the passion for the grape.)
    Barbara Wolf