All there is to knowabout organic wine

Anna Caidan addresses the complete picture of the organic phenomenon in wine production.
Wine Story

Do organic wines have a particular taste?

When they are well made, organic wines express a more mature, more digestible taste, like a good fruit, from a fruit tree in the prime of life: it is no more mature than others, but it offers more mouthfeel, a presence that is not based on sweetness but in the balance of flavours. With a good white wine, the amateur taster will receive upon entry in the mouth a particular sense that is not built on the alcohol but on the density of flavours.

The different characters of organic red wines

Organic red wines display an acidic supplement that gives them a particular balance. A vine that has never received potassium has better acidity than a plant that has been saturated with chemical fertilizers to increase productivity. Unfortunately, most vines receive too much fertilizer.

When tasting red wine, there is often, in organic wines, the presence in the mouth of a floral expression that appears before the fruit. These floral notes are very rare to find in red wine made from conventional viticulture. Finally, the great organic wines often display a degree of alcohol a little lower than the average. Combined with higher acidity, this temperance provides a better balance.

What qualities do organic wines have?

The finish in many organic wines sometimes disappoint, as they may seem a little short. This is because it is not “made up”. Today, every winemaker knows very well to keep the taste of the wine lingering in the mouth by using the “makeup”. This requires flavouring yeast to boost sugar and lengthen the mouth. Good organic growers do not use these devices. Another characteristic is that the volume of alcohol is often lower in organic wines, even when the general degree rises. In a blind tasting of fifty wines, a bio wine can be spotted by the brevity of the final. Re-tasting at the table with several glasses – it is also the dimensions of a wine that is judged - the wine has the length, but another type of length, linked to the flavours. It is not just the volume, fat, alcohol, sugar or flavouring, but two or three sips of this wine and it remains on the palate as a persistence. Maybe this is the beginning of the definition of the famous mineral organic wines!

Practising organic viticulture is to ask the most basic questions: what land is rich and autonomous enough to receive the vine? Does it have a valid hydromorphic network? Does the sun exposure and prevailing winds allow the plant to grow smoothly? If the soil is conducive to the vine, people will be able to devote themselves to the maintenance of the land. It will not be obligatory to use an infusion fertilizer on the land or vine. Vines have often been planted in places that were not meant for them. The traditional vine-grower extends the vineyard regardless of the type of soil. This was not a problem as chemistry and amendments palliated all deficicencies of the soil. The only concern winemakers faced at the time were if his grapes would make enough sugar. In another generation, the obsession was the alcoholic maturity. They had to obtain high degrees. Sugar was then sought from the grapes, by all means, including genetic. And the taste of the grape, its flavour, had become secondary.

Has the organic vine-grower banished all the treatments?

The golden rule of organic vine-growing is to refuse inputs, especially chemical. It uses only natural products, limited in number and quantity, particularly copper. When it comes to diseases, the plant is not vaccinated, there is nothing irreversible injected into the soil or in the plant, they have to act preventively. In case of bad weather, an organic vine-grower therefore runs the risk of losing part of the crop.

The vines must be ploughed. But then, organic growers are faced with a paradox: to enhance soil respiration and better feed the root system of their vines, they are forced to multiply passages from the tractor and therefore burn more fuel. Result: a poor carbon balance and a slowdown in damaging land for soil life.

In the cellar, what makes an organic vine-grower standout from other producers?

Beyond ecological concerns, the vine-grower chooses to switch to bio for better definition of flavours, closest to its terroir. Once in the cellar, it will seek to preserve what it considers to be the taste of the terroir. It will therefore work with indigenous yeasts. It will also avoid chaptalisation. It is not easy in the northern vineyards, where for the past forty years, they obtained on average, once every three years, 10.5 ° , because of a lack of sun! The organic wine-maker also has a finer management of sulphur dioxide. But then, there is no dogma. The proponents of traditional viticulture do believe that all bio winemaker work without organic sulphur and that their wines do not keep well. This is not the case! With the exception of a small minority, organic winemakers work with sulphur, but not systematically and with lesser doses than those recommended by oenological laboratories. Lowering doses of sulphur in winemaking or bottling means that the wines are more resistant. They must also be protected from the air by other means, especially by profiting from the carbon dioxide that is naturally released during fermentation. Before pouring, organic wines need to be better ventilated.

What are the problems associated with sulphur?

Some individuals are allergic to sulphites. But when a winemaker decides to lower the doses of sulphur in its wines, this is often not the health argument which motivates them. Their choice is elsewhere: all organic growers have found that sulphur damages the work done in the vineyard to protect the taste of the grapes. When tasted in a cellar, wine harvested and vinified without the addition of sulphur, reveals a truly clear taste, delicate tannins, and a concentration without any aggressiveness. But all vintners know that as soon as the wine is bottled, those qualities disappear. Organic and biodynamic winemakers therefore impose platforms for SO2 two to three times lower than the legal requirements. To try to keep this sublime purity, winemakers have even tested vinification and bottlings without sulphur intake. The result is rarely convincing. For who said reduction or removal of sulphur requires an exceptional cellar hygiene. Sulphur cleans what is dirty. If a powerful antioxidant such as sulphur is removed, one must have a very clear and pure juice, and “industrial” like hygiene for getting rid of any unwanted pests.

Does a bio wine require a certain approach?

An organic wine is often more difficult to identify through the nose when opening the bottle. It develops strong reduction notes. Musty aromas, acidic smells then, once aired, like in the best wines, all this disappears and the floral purity suddenly imposes clearly. If one does not experience this spectacular recovery in tasting organic wine, it is that something has been missed in its design.

What should we know from a vine-grower converted in bio?

One must be interested in the vegetal material of the plant and whether the vine-grower has rehabilitated his vineyard. This is fundamental. Many vine-growers who have changed over to bio have kept the same vines. These vines are from clonal selections guided by an obsession between sugar and alcohol level. High in degrees of alcohol but do not have enough taste, which is a handicap when seeking tasty grapes! One should trust more the bold vine-grower, those who have not hesitated to replant.

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