September 1, 2017

Regulations Can Help With Definitions, but Nothing is Simple 

Count me as a tremendous fan of "Organic Wines". But the notion of organic is not the same as reality. When you look at the agri-business of non-grapes, the rules, laws, and guidelines are sketchy at best. A perfect example: I have three children; my wife and I went the route of buying organic fruits and vegetables and making purees for our first child. Then our pediatrician informed us that the rules for "adult" fruits and vegetables was so lax that is better to buy prepared organic food for our children.

Do not expect organic regulations and labeling for wine to be any simpler. Researching tomes of information in the CFR ( Code of Federal Regulations) is not so helpful - much of what you learn is not allowed. In simple terms, from wine making perspective, the key is nothing synthetic. No use of herbicides, nor pesticides. Most of federal regulations are concerned about soil impact. If the product is deemed harmful it is forbidden.

But not all that impacts the vine is accounted for. Consider changes in agricultural practices, starting with the industrial revolution and the mechanization of farming practices. The tractor since 1920s started the end of the use of the mules and horse. Now organic farming for grapes does not require the use of horses and mules, but many grape farmers fell the use of mechanical harvesters should be limited their reasoning is soil compression: the weight of the machinery over time crushes or begins to crush the soil and the organic material in it. There is a concern that over time even with efforts of non - damaging farming practices, machinery may be causing damage that is greater than the benefit of the organic farming. (When we discuss bio-dynamics, the use of mule and horse is far more prevalent)


It takes a minimum of three years to purge the vineyards before any mention of organic can appear on the label of a bottle of wine. During this cleansing process, there is an accounting for all elements used in farming and wine-making process. This is an obligation and it's open to inspection by independent certifying organization who guarantees adherence.


What of the results of the organic efforts in the vineyard? There seems to be depreciation in the initial yields, almost an adaptive period for the vines. Most winemakers have told that between years three and five there is a bump in yield. The quality of the fruit improves. The vine is healthier, the fruit is healthier and the vine is more resistant to diseases.


How about the wine? It stands to reason that if the raw material is improved then the final product should as well. There is a codicil however: a grape grower must be a good grape grower, but the wine maker must also be good at  what they do. Being organic does not make a wine good by default; everything else must meet the quality level in the vineyard and at the winery. Support organic grape growing, support organic wine making, but remember that neither can guarantee quality.




© American Sommelier, Inc 2017

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