There is a long history of organic growing in Europe. For some time it has been primarily small wineries, leaders and responsible growers (rejecting the easy and uncontrolled use of synthetic products) that committed to organic production techniques — many as early as the 1960s. For years, they struggled to make a living this way, swimming against the ‘synthetic wave’.
Today, as consumers become more aware and responsible about what they eat and drink, there is an increasing interest in, and consequently a rising demand for, organic products.
As a consumer, how can you tell whether a product is truly organic?
Certifications have been put in place in many countries to provide the consumer with confidence in the product they buy (see links). In Canada, regulation for organic produce production and labelling (including wine) has been passed and will be implemented starting December 2008. So when you buy a wine, always check that it is certified organic, either by Ecocert (the primary international certification body) or an independent third party. It should carry a logo that states “certified organic”.
- No synthetic product (pesticide, herbicide, fungicide, chemical fertilizer, and so on) has been sprayed on the winery. Only pure, natural and regulatory authorized products have been used.
- The amount of added sulphite is very low or non-existent (please note that sulphites naturally occur in wine making. In organic wine making, only very limited amounts of pure sulphite (i.e coming from a natural sulphur mine vs. a synthetic option) — at levels considered to be harmless — are authorized to be added as a preservative.
- No synthetic additives have been used during processing — only natural authorized products are used and only when necessary.
- In Europe, products that claim to be organic may not contain any genetically modified organisms (GMOs) (this extends to the grape vines).
Avoid wines that claim to be organic but where proof of certification is not available. Without proof of certification, you cannot be assured that the product is, indeed, organic.
- Certified organic producers are seriously committed to the organic philosophy. They live and breathe their belief. They are not producing organic produce because it's trendy. They deeply believe they should protect the environment and consumers' health. They have stood by their conviction despite many years of hardship, and now it is paying off financially.
- If you buy a non-certified wine, the non-certified winery wins no matter what happens. If one of their crops is in trouble and they decide to apply pesticides, there is no recourse since they can't lose their certified organic status — they aren't certified to begin with and there is nothing to hold them accountable.
When a certified organic producer has trouble with a crop they will either lose their crop (Chateau Méric lost 80% of its production in the summer of 2007 but refused to spray against mildew attacks, which were particularly intense in the Graves area) or, if they apply pesticides, lose their certification.
By buying only certified products you ensure that organic producers are rewarded for their commitment, and you avoid supporting those who produce organically only when its convenient for them.
Note on our own portfolio:
You will notice below that Domaine la Bérangeraie is not certified organic yet but their first “conversion to organic” vintage will be 2010.