The use of heavy synthetic fertilisers, weed killers, fungicides and pesticides in the production of conventional wines have destroyed most of the soils of the vineyards. Vines need living and breathing soil to grow healthily. Where synthetic chemicals are used, grapes will grow unhealthily and will need a lot of additives in the winemaking process to compensate for the poor quality. Because of this, wine has literally become a manufactured product. These days the aim is to produce more and more for less money and fast. Why waste time to age wine in wooden barrels when you can legally add oak chips to the wine to mimic the flavour of a real barrique?
Additives in the form of different enzymes are used to amplify aromas, to intensify and clarify color. Other additives are used to enhance the wine’s texture, to add tannins or to improve quality. The yeasts used need nutrients to do their job in the winemaking process, these nutrients are basically the same fertilisers that are used in the vineyard but in a different form. The list of additives is long and not only for conventionally produced wines.
In February 2012 the EU Commission introduced regulations on the organic certification of wine. If you followed their rules, you could add the “Organic Wine” logo to the label, an easily recognisable green rectangle with a leaf made out of stars. All in all that should have been a positive thing for the wineries that were already farming and producing wine organically; a way to recognise their good and environmentally friendly work. However, it turned out to be a law that didn’t serve these wineries, which are mostly small, family run artisan wineries, at all. To give you an idea of how organic these wines with an “Organic Wine” label have to be, you may want to take a look at what the labelling of wines would look like if ingredients had to be listed:
That is quite a long ingredients list for a product that can be made with little more than water, sunlight, grapes and good soil. In fact, the list is hardly shorter than that of a conventional wine. So the following question raises; who was this regulation made for?
For the industrial wine producers. A very long list of additives has been selected to make it easier for the big wine producers to enter the organic wine market. It’s no secret that the industry has profited from the growing trend to consume healthier food and beverages. “Organic” and “Natural” sells.
In the food industry you are allowed to use the word “Natural” for marketing purposes, but if you call a wine natural you break the law. After the EU commission made the organic wine regulation, small artisan wineries which produce natural wines have been concerned about the possibility of a future “Natural Wine” certificate. They fear that it will again become a regulation for the benefit of the big industrialised wineries.
To put things straight: there are many organic certified wineries that work with minimal intervention in the vineyard and in the cellar, but there are many others that have been granted the certificate without having to shorten their long list of additives used by much. This is one of the biggest reasons why many artisan wineries don’t apply for the certificate. The positive side is that some of the bigger wineries convert at least part of their farming into organic farming, which means less pesticides and chemicals in the soil, which leads to a healthier environment.
But it takes years to convert to organic farming and to recreate biodiversity in the vineyard; to nurture soil which is alive, rich in the humus, flora, fauna and microfauna which are part of a natural biological cycle where healthy plants can grow. In a natural environment the vegetation can grow with as little intervention as possible and healthy grapes which have grown without the use of chemicals will spontaneously ferment in the vinification process. This is the way the process has worked for thousands of years. There’s no need for other ingredients except the possible addition of sulfur dioxide, which is used as a stabiliser and preservative. Even then, the amount of sulphites should be marked on the label, because there is a big difference if a wine includes 10mg/l or 200mg/l of added sulphites.
So now we can just think about how long the list of ingredients/additives would be for conventionally made wines. (This list wouldn’t even include the often poisonous chemicals used in the vineyard which can leave residue on the grapes)… and would you buy these wines if you would see the list?