Myth or Mystery: All organic wine tastes like a farm
Myth or Mystery this month focuses on the confusing and often right out bad rep that organic wine seems to get. We are going to help to debunk all the nonsense and misconception that all organic wine smells like a farmyard or tastes and looks like homemade kombucha.
The world of wine is awash with terms such as organic, biodynamic, natural, low intervention, orange… These concepts often get confused and whilst they can, and often do overlap, they are very distinct, separate areas of grape growing and winemaking. So let’s get to the crux of it, what exactly is organic wine?
In very stripped back and simple terms, to make organic wine, you are not allowed to use synthetic chemical products such as when using pesticides, herbicides or fertilisers. However, as is life, it is not quite as simple as that. There are a smattering of chemical products that are permitted within organic viticulture. However, where the organics draws the line is in the use of synthetic chemicals which are man-made, systemic and will be absorbed by the vine. It would be a lot easier to say that organic farming is simply farming without chemicals, but truth be told, almost all winemakers out there will use some sort of chemicals in their vineyards, but are still very much farming organically.
We appreciate that the use of chemicals in organic viticulture can seem like an oxymoron, but bear with us on this one. Organic producers can only use chemical products that act by contact, which is to say that the product is sprayed on the surface of the vine, remaining on the leaf or the grapes after treatment and not absorbed by the vine. These treatments are effective as long as they stay there in contact with the plant. However, they can and will be washed away by something like rain. Copper and sulphur are two examples of chemical contact-only sprays that are widely used in organic farming.
The most common trope in the world of organics is, ‘oh this wine smells farmyardy, does that mean it is an organic wine?’. In short, no. Organic farming is not going to make your wine taste or smell like a farmyard. The farmy-like smells associated with organic wines seems to be in part a hang up from the 70s and the era of the hippy farmer trying to grow his limp and rather unappetising organic veg. This era also held onto a lot of fear that a lack of (chemical) spraying meant that grapes would be affected by rot and fungal diseases, which would never occur under the chemical-laden conventional farming practices. As such, the fear, misunderstanding and lack of experience of organic farming has led to the spread of misinformation that still resonates in today’s culture. We will dig into this more another day, but in short, such aromas are born of the winemaking process and in fact, have nothing to do with how the grapes were farmed.
Aside from the clear benefits that organic farming has in the vineyard, it can also have a marked and positive impact on the taste of your wine. As an organic specialist, we are in constant contact with our winemakers and many of them have told us of the amazing effects on the tangible elements of their wines, such as increased acidity, earlier ripening fruit (resulting in riper fruit) and improved overall balance. They report year-on-year progression in their grapes which gives them more concentration, purity and definition. Furthermore, every winemaker seeks to make wines that speak to their origins and reflect the terroir. In stopping the use of conventional, synthetic farming, you allow the terroir to shine and simply make wines that are more original and tell the story of the land where they were grown.
Finally, it seems that the truth about organic viticulture is getting out, and the stigma slowly eroding. Farmers and winemakers are turning to organics in their droves and reporting a clear message that their land and fruit are reaping the benefits. And we, as consumers, care more. We care what we put in our bodies and we care how we are leaving the planet for the next generation. However, it is important to remember that organic agriculture is simply a method. It is by no means a marker of quality. As always, the producer is the guarantee of great wine.