Organic wine
Organic grapes
Organic grapes

Consumers are becoming increasingly sophisticated and discriminating about their health, and the environment is always high on their list of concerns. As their awareness and concern grow, the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides in food products comes under greater scrutiny.

Wine is not immune from these concerns and the use of chemical, pesticides and added preservatives are an issue to the viticulture and wine industry.

There has been a rapid change of attitude towards and practice in the use of chemicals and additives through-out the industry in response to the issue, and particularly in response to the rapid development of an export market into countries like Sweden and Norway, where there are very strict consumers laws relating to residues in food and wine. In Australia much less chemical, and fewer chemical formulations, are used on vines than ten years ago. As part of this trend, we have seen a steady interest in 'organic' wine. Many growers and wine makers are still experimenting with chemical reduction and the early stages of conversion, some have become organic for grape production, but not wine making, and a small group has become completely organic. Most, but not all of this last group have become ‘Certified Organic’.

Another offspring from the growing public concern and understanding about health is the production of more quality wines with reduced sulfites. About 20% of the population is believed to be sensitive to sulfites, 5 or 6% are very sensitive. Companies such as BRL Hardy produce ‘sulphur free’ wines for this market, which are not ‘organic’ (“you cannot strictly have a ‘sulphur free’ wine, because some sulphite is naturally produced, but it is generally understood that this term means ‘no added sulphur’).

In Australia we have well developed Organic Standards for Organic wine making. This contrasts with some other countries, noticeably the USA, where there is no legal organic processing standard. In Australia the wine industry, which fought hard to contain all the main issues for wine into one standard, has agreed that organic can be the only exception, and ‘organic’ wine is recognised and welcomed by most people in the industry.

Producers who grow certified organic grapes but process them conventionally, or where the processing is not certified, generally use a term such as "wine made from organically-grown grapes". Where the processing has been certified, the wines may be sold as ‘Organic wine’.

Three certification organisations certify almost all the organic wine and grape production in Australia, the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Australia Ltd (NASAA), Australian certified Organic (ACO) and the Biodynamic Research Institute (Demeter label).

Processing standards for organic wine in Australia do permit some additives and processing aids. Adam Wynn has described this as working with ‘a reduced toolkit’. In America the debate rages strongly over just what may be called organic wine.

A strong view in the USA is that there should be no added sulfites, yeasts, bentonite, egg whites, gasses (N2, CO2), or any other n additives during the winemaking process. A less severe view allows sulfites in any wine as long as they do not exceed around about 100 ppm.

The strong position is very limiting on wine makers. Experts disagree about whether wines produced under such strict limitation can have the real taste and attributes of a quality wine. Making wine under these strictest standard does allow producers to market a "Vegan" wine (ie no animal products at all used in the manufacture of the wine).

Sulfur dioxide inhibits the growth of moulds and bacteria, stops oxidation (browning) and preserves the wine's natural flavour. It allows the production of long-keeping (and improving) wines.

It's extremely difficult to make a wine that will keep well without adding at least some additional sulfites (some are produced naturally during the wine making process). This is particularly true of white wines, where the grape skin is taken away prior to fermentation. Red wines are fermented with juice and skins together, which provides the red colour and adds tannin, a natural preservative from the skin.

In Australia ‘preservative free’ and ‘organic’ have a different meaning. In order to warn consumers, organic wine carries a ’contains sulphur’ indication on the label.

One of the largest wineries in California, Fetzer, was just developing a line of organic wines when I visited in 1993. They now sell over 100,000 cases of organic wine per annum.

The practice at Fetzer is try to eliminate the need for cultured yeasts in organic by keeping pesticides, which could kill the natural yeasts, to a minimum. Physical treatment of the wine (like filtering and fining) is also kept to a minimum and the use of sulfur dioxide as an antioxidant is greatly restricted.

Australian Organic Standards permit the following additives in winemaking:

• Sodium or Potassium Metabisulphite - used to introduce SO2 to the must - controls natural wild yeast fermentation - generally up to 40 ppm added.

• Sulphur dioxide (SO2) - 40-50 mg/L in red and 100-150 mg/L in

• Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) - anti-oxidant - does not replace SO2 as it has no aldehyde binding or bacterial effect. generally around 10 ppm.

• Tartaric Acid - used to lower pH, this reduces the amount of SO2 addition. Tartrate crystals are deposited.

• Copper Sulphate - minimal use (1 ppm) removes hydrogen sulphide (which produces mercaptans and other contaminants).

• Egg white (albumin) - is also used to clear wine and reduce tannin levels.

• Food grade gelatine - used to remove polyphenols.

Preservative free wine is pasteurised to stop fermentation.

Organic Vines at Martin's Hill, Mudgee
Organic Vines at Martin's Hill, Mudgee
Australian organic wine producers

Temple Bruer (David Bruer) OVAA

Langhorne Creek (08) 85370203

Glenara (Leigh Verrall) OVAA

Upper Hermitage (08) 83805056

Wynns Wines {Adam Wynn} OVAA

Various (SA & NSW) (08) 83625811

Southcorp (Penfolds) (Vineyard Manager John Matz) NASAA

Clare (08) 88434388

Serventy Wines (Lyn Serventy) NASAA

Margaret River (08) 97577534

Settlers Ridge (Wayne Nobbs) NASAA

Margaret River (08) 97555388

Cassegrain (Vineyard Manager Ludwig Mueller) Demeter

Hastings River (NSW) (02) 65850381

Robinvale Wines Demeter

Robinvale (03) 50263955

Highbank Wines (Dennis Vice)

Coonawarra (08) 7372020

Jeanneret Wines (Dennis Jeanneret)

Clare (08) 88434308

Botobolar (Kevin Karstrom)

Mudgee (02) 63733840

Martins Hill Wines

Mudgee (02) 63731248

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