Wine of grapes from organic farming, organic wine, natural wine, biodynamic wine… We can hardly find our way around! Let’s distinguish between the real and the fake.
So, what is an organic wine exactly ?
An organic wine is a wine made from grapes from organic farming.
True, and until 2012 it was the only mention allowed in the absence of a European charter for organic winemaking. Since then, 100% of the organic wines are made from organically grown grapes (i.e. grown without pesticides, chemical fertilizers or GMOs) and are then vinified in accordance with this European regulation.
An organic wine is a wine made without additions and without human intervention
Wrong. We’re talking about vinegar here. The human hand is responsible for interrupting the transformation of grape juice into vinegar and blocking this process in the “wine” box. For this purpose, however, the organic winegrower can only use certified organic additives, insofar as they are available on the market. Thus, yeast manufacturers have developed organic yeast strains and an organic wine is not necessarily made from indigenous yeasts. Chaptalization (addition of sugar to increase the alcohol content of wines) is authorised in organic farming under the same conditions as in conventional agriculture under prefectoral authorisation, but for organic wines, the sugar used must be stamped AB.
Some inputs (external additives) allowed for the production of conventional wines are prohibited for organic wines (such as malic acid, but acidification by adding lactic and/or tartaric acids remains allowed) as well as certain physical practices (such as overly tight filtering).
An organic wine is a sulphur-free wine
Wrong. There is no such thing as “sulphur-free” wine. Naturally, yeasts produce SO2 (sulphur dioxide) when they transform sugar into alcohol. However, we can talk about wine “without added sulphur”. The maximum doses of SO2 added vary from 200 mg/litre for whites and 150 mg/litre for conventional red wines to 40 and 30 mg/litre for so-called “natural” or “nature” wines (these wines can be certified by the Association des Vins Naturels but are not subject to official regulations).
The maximum standard for organic wines is 150 mg/l for whites and 100 mg/l for dry reds, a difference of 50 mg/l which is limited to 30 mg/l for semi-dry, sweet and sweet wines (the presence of sugar requires more sulphiting). It is a maximum standard. Some organic wines are well below, sometimes without sulfites added to the bet. You have to know the producer and how he works.
SO2 is an antioxidant and an antiseptic. It is added at different stages of vinification and especially at the time of bottling. The maximum doses mentioned above are the doses of total SO2, i.e. present in the finished wine. Every milligram of SO2 less in the bottle requires the winegrower to have reviewed his vinification and bottling process to protect his wine from oxygen and improve hygiene from harvest to bottling. Without this, the wine will pearl and be adorned with oxidized aromas of chard apple: you might as well have a good cider. This scenario is increasingly rare and a wine with low sulphur content, well made, expresses a crunchiness of juice and a sweetness of fruit that really make the difference and fully justify the efforts of the winegrower!
An organic wine does not hurt your head
True and false. We have two suspects for wine headaches. One is under investigation: SO2, which causes headaches when present in high doses. However, we are not all equal in terms of what constitutes a “high dose” that can cause headaches. Because at lower doses, if SO2 hurts, it is not yet known whether it is an individual’s reaction due to an allergy or particular sensitivity or whether it is a general adverse reaction to the substance. In any case, the reduction of doses in organic wines should reduce these reactions.
The second suspect can no longer claim the presumption of innocence. It’s the alcohol. After a certain number of glasses (and here again the dose varies) you can no longer blame the sulphur and your sensitivity… You had to drink a glass of water between each glass of wine, organic or not organic. Organic practices in the vineyard and cellar do not influence the alcohol content of the wines and de-alcoholisation is prohibited in organic farming.
Biodynamic wines are a kind of organic wine
There is a debate. And he is generally very passionate. Biological and biodynamic should not be confused. Both approaches aim to respect the environment by eliminating synthetic inputs, GMOs… But, beyond that, biodynamic winegrowers aspire to restore the virtuous cycles between the soil, the plant, the auxiliaries (plants, vine insects), the sky, the moon… according to the philosophy and methods described by the German agronomist Rudolph Steiner in 1927.
For this, these winegrowers use preparations, liquid manure, decoctions and herbal teas that organic winegrowers can use (as long as these preparations are organic!) and the border is not watertight between the two approaches. Referring to the wisdom of the Elders to carry out various operations in the vineyard and cellar according to the lunar calendar is not the prerogative of biodynamics. Many biodynamic winegrowers began by obtaining the AB label (organic farming, certified by Ecocert after a three-year conversion period) before turning to the Demeter label, which guarantees biodynamic wines (with a maximum total sulphur content of 70 mg/l for red wines and 90 mg/l for white wines). Other winegrowers stay in AB and are inspired (or not) by biodynamic practices in complete freedom.