Certified organic (CO) and practicing organic (PO) wine is produced from grapes grown in accordance with principles of organic farming, which typically excludes the use of artificial chemical fertilisers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides.
The process is audited by the recognised body in the wine producing country of origin, according to strict regulations and viticultural practices which allows the term ‘organic wine’ to be used on the wine label. In essence the concept is a return to old-fashioned, less intensive agricultural practices; however, it is only since the 2012 vintage that there has been a definition of ‘organic’ wine within the EU.
In organic wine production the vines are cultivated in vineyards where the environment is respected and biodiversity is encouraged. The use of artificial pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and fertilisers is strictly prohibited; though certain fertilisers (typically derived from animal or vegetable matter) are allowed.
By adopting an organic approach to viticulture the vines are encouraged to draw essential minerals from the soil and so develop a better resistance to disease negating the need to use artificial interventions. Weed control is carried out by ploughing (horse’s are frequently used in this process) or by growing cover crops. The cover crops act in turn as hosts for beneficial natural predators (ladybirds for example) and provide an ecological form of pest control.
The process of converting a vineyard to certified organic takes three years. Any non-organic treatments are strictly forbidden and the growers can be inspected at anytime without warning. The use of any synthetic and chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides would mean the estate would have to begin the whole process again. Certification of organic wine is run by the relevant country’s examining bodies. In France for example certification is provided by ‘Ecocert’.
In addition to organic practices in the vineyard there are also restrictions with the winemaking process too, including a reduced use of sulphur dioxide.
It is worth noting that there are many wine-growers who elect to farm organically (or biodynamically) but who have no desire to seek certification or accreditation for their efforts and as such are seen as practicing organic (PO). Their reasons for converting from conventional practices are generally for health and sustainability issues and not marketing inspired. Therefore, whilst their wines are organic in the true sense of the word, they are not allowed to market their wines as ‘Certified Organic’.
Finally, there is another winemaking discipline which in French is called ‘la lutte raisonnée’. It is becoming increasingly popular in viticulture parlance but there are cynics who are wary of this practice as it is a rather grey area of organic and sustainable winemaking philosophy. Essentially growers adopting this regime have stopped treating systemically and essentially follow organic disciplines, but they reserve the right to treat the vines if faced with a particular problem. At its best this is just a common sense decision to farm as safely as possible, adopting organic and often experimenting with biodynamic viticulture, but remaining free of dogma. It can however, from the cynics’ perspectives, be seen as a rather cosy way of allowing the grower to do whatever he likes.