From cotton to cauliflower, the go-green phenomenon is sweeping through all sectors of the retail environment, and wine is no exception. With grapes topping the list of the most chemically-sprayed produce on the market today, it’s small wonder that increasingly wine drinkers are filling their glasses with organic tipple.
What does organic wine farming mean?
It entails the holistic production of wine grapes while increasing and improving the well-being of the agricultural ecosystem. All synthetic inputs are prohibited, and the emphasis falls on increasing the fertility of the soil.
So what is organic wine?
There is currently no enforceable South African legislation on organic wine. The strictest definition from the US Department of Agriculture is that it’s wine made from organic graped and no added sulphites. However, organic grapes should not be exposed to conventional grapes or juice; neither should they come into contact with equipment used to process conventional material, unles these have been cleaned by an approved method. All procedures must be written up and activities logged.
Why are organic wines good for you?
For years we’ve been told red wine is good for the heart because it contains resveratrol, a polyphenol found naturally in the skin of the grapes. The WHO says this can protect the heart and against cancer, is a natural anti-inflammatory and is phyto-oestrogenic, meaning it can fight symptoms of menopause. But, when a vineyard uses pesticides, it destroys the reveratrol, meaning the wine has no health benefits.
What do organic wines taste like?
Organic wines have been described as having more individuality and character. Analysis of organic vegetables and fruit have shown them to be richer in nutrients. It’s thus logical that the lucky yeast that finds itself floating in this rich organic juice, will ferment much more happily and without the need for added vitamins and nitrogen. Organic wines do not have lower alcohol levels as this is determined by the sugar content of the grapes at picking.
The sulphur issue
Organic wines are not automatically sulphur free, but the maximum they may contain is half the maximum level permitted in conventional wines. This level is between 80 and100 parts per million. The sulphur dioxide content of wine is the only measurable criteria in the wine (apart from pesticide residues) that can disqualify a wine for organic status. Sulphur diozide can be produced naturally by some yeasts. In recognition of this, the USDA have decided that if a wine contains less than 10ppm sulpher dioxide, it may be labelled ‘sulphur free’ and if made from organic grapes “100% organic.”
Hangovers and wine
Sulpher dioxide is often blamed for headaches, but it’s the naturally occuring histamines that are more often the culprit. Produced by wild yeasts and bacteria, these are common in foods in which some form of fermentation takes place. So those who get headaches after red wine may also suffer after eating cheeses, salamis, pickles, soy sauce and chocolates.
Others are sensitive to the tannins and phenols in wine. But alcohol’s effect remains the same whether the wine is organic or not. Too much will strain your system and cause blood vessels to swell, including those in your nasal passages. What you won’t find in organic wines are any traces of spraying chemicals.
Which wines are organic?
Woolworths stocks a great selection of organic wines, try those from Stellar Winery in Vredendal. Although not organic, also on sale is a no-sulphur-added méthode cap classique sparkling wine from Villiera, called Brut Natural. These no sulphur-added-wines are labelled with a sell-by date to prevent oxidation in the bottle. Bon Cap in the Breede River valley in Robertson is producing a harvest of organic wine that has paid off handsomely with awards, trophies and high ratings. Others are from Laibach in Stellenbosch and African Terrior in Paarl.