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Organic Wines


Château de Beaucastel (and Coudoulet) has full Ecocert status from 2001 (don't expect to see this on the labels though) Domaine de la Charité has had official status from 2009 as has its sister estate in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Chateau Capucine Domaine de Cristia is Ecocert from 2008 except for new vineyards which are in conversion (see *) Mas de Daumas Gassac is well known for its organic methods but has never subscribed to any of the official bodies
Poggio al Gello makes superb organic wines near to Montalcino Domaine du Bon Remede is a small estate with Terra Vitis status  

We are pleased to list wines from several producers who have Ecocert status, are "in conversion" or are well-known to employ organic methods of production outside the official rules of the various organisations. In France there are a number of bodies which award a variety of "organic" accreditations. They do not necessarily conform to the UK format and regulations as laid down by the Soil Association.

The term "organic farming" was legally defined in 1981 as 'farming which uses no synthetic chemical products'. This prohibits the use of a wide range of pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers in order to protect the natural environment. Organic farming also safeguards consumers from pesticide residues, thereby protecting their health.

In relation to wine, the term "organic" is a difficult concept to define. According to Jancis Robinson's Oxford Companion to Wine:-

 "ORGANIC WINE:- imprecise term for wine made from grapes produced by organic viticulture using a minimum of chemicals during wine making."

 Organic wine is made from fruit which has been grown and processed without the use of synthetic fertilisers, chemical weedkillers, chemical disease-control sprays, insecticides, growth regulators, flavour-enhancers or genetic engineering.

Within the spirit of these definitions, most of our wines can claim to be "organic", especially those from small producers who have a vested interest in respecting and protecting the vineyard environment, and who in any case are likely to prefer non-chemical and biodynamic approaches to protect their vines and the soil on which their future production and income is dependent. However, most vineyards will make some limited use of sulphur dioxide (SO²) in the winery for ensuring cleanliness and preventing oxidation, and often use Bordeaux mixture (a mix of lime, copper sulphate and water) on the vines to inhibit mildew. Both these compounds are generally permitted under the various "Organic" regimes.

SO² is the chemical which, in some mass-produced wines, can give the wine a bad egg aroma and which is responsible for more hangovers than anything else. Without it, however, wines could be bacterial time bombs. However, some producers have found ways to avoid using much or any SO²: the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel (Domaines Perrin) has developed a method of "thermo-vinification" by which grapes are heated up for about a minute to kill off unwanted and undesirable bacteria before being cooled down prior to fermentation. Others use some carbon dioxide (CO²) in order to bottle with little or no SO². Such wines may be slightly fizzy when opened: they simply need to be allowed to breathe to let the CO² disperse.

The climate of the Southern Rhône is ideally suited to organic viticulture which requires a warm, dry environment in order to produce commercial ly viable quantities of high-quality wine. Indeed, many producers in the region (including all those on our list) use very little in the way of chemicals simply because they have found them unnecessary. Also, whilst various bodies have been set up to monitor organic production, many producers in the region prefer to follow organic principles outside any formal organisation.

 * Domaine de Cristia had some administrative problems in converting to Ecocert: all the estate's vineyards had been farmed organically for some years but full Ecocert status was due from 2008. However, when they informed the authorities of the plot numbers, they omitted some Mourvedre parcels in their Chateauneuf vineyard so these were rejected for 2008 which means the 2008 CDP was not Ecocert! However, 2009 is - except the Cuvee Renaissance which will have the Mourvedre and any new parcels which are also in conversion. Confused?

 "Terra Vitis" (Living Earth) is a relatively new and largely unknown organisation that has become popular with small French growers who cannot afford the time or expense of Ecocert (inspections and certification take a lot of time and many domaines are essentially one-man-bands and need to be in the vineyard or winery or out selling their wines). As a member of Terra Vitis, the wine grower is committing himself to produce grapes of high quality, whilst totally respecting the environment. He has to:

  •  insects or disease is likely to cause damage to the crop
  • use pesticides only when observations justify it (taking tolerance thresholds into account in order to limit treatments as much as possible)
  • use the natural regulation mechanisms of insect populations - e.g. by introducing a predator
  • Adjust the amounts of organic and mineral supplements appropriately for the area concerned, supported by soil and leaf analysis
  • adapt the upkeep of the soil to fight against erosion
  • ensure a complete traceability of practice
  • be subject to inspection by the independent Terra Vitis organisation .

Other alternatives

Lutte raisonnée means, literally 'the reasoned struggle'. Growers, such as Pascal Verhaeghe of Chateau du Cèdre, who practice this kind of viticulture use chemicals less often and less aggressively. Lutte raisonée can be very close to organic farming; however, there are no rules and no checks so there are no guarantees that the grower is following the ethos without abuse. Cynically, it must be admitted that this is a way to claim semi-organic status without having to commit to anything.

Lutte biologique is translated as 'biological control', the struggle against a pest or weed through the natural antagonists.

Wine and Health

If you are concerned about organic wine for health reasons, the issues are quite complex. Clearly at the extremes, excessive use of artificial weedkillers, pesticides etc may induce adverse reactions in some people. However, such wines are unlikely to taste "clean" or good, and it is certainly not a sustainable approach to wine-making. Whilst "organic" production will reduce any trace of artificial chemicals and fertilisers, it may actually increase the presence of other "natural" chemicals in the wine, e.g. if organic practice reduces the amount of filtration of the wine before bottling. Wine naturally contains a complex mixture of alcohols, esters, dissolved sulphur dioxide, acetaldehyde, glycerol, sugar, phenolics, pectins, acids, mineral salts and elements - estimated to be in excess of 1,000 constituents. Without chemical analysis of the wine and determination of those elements which may cause you problems, it is not always wise to assume that you will react less adversely to an "organic" wine than one which is not so labelled. You are more likely to react to any poorly-made wine, hence the danger of cheap plonk in plastic bottles!

 As with many things, much depends on the quality and integrity of the wine-maker, and hence in general terms you are more likely to get "good" wine, in its broadest sense, from a quality individual producer than some large impersonal conglomerate or multi-national.

You must be aged 18 or over to purchase wine.
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