It’s not always easy to get to grips with the terminology, so here’s a short introduction. Strictly speaking one should talk about “wine made from organically grown grapes” since it is only what is done in the vineyard that is regulated, not what is done in the winery. But change is coming – the EU is working on defining what organic means also for the vinification. In spite of that we usually talk about “organic wines”. In French they say “vin biologique” or simply “vin bio”. There are a few terms that you should keep apart:
— Organic wine: The work in the vineyard is certified by an official organisation, e.g. Ecocert. They do not use chemical treatments (except sulphur and copper) and wants to “respect nature”. The rules are common across the EU.
— Biodynamic wine: They use special composts and herbal teas for treatments in the vineyard. Often they also follow a planting and work calendar based on e.g. the moon phases, albeit this is not strictly part of the biodynamic principles (and it is also used by non-biodynamic winemakers). All biodynamic growers are ‘par force’ organic. They are certified by private organisations, e.g. Demter and Biodyvin.
— Natural wine: A concept that has gained in popularity recently. The concept is based on that one should do as little intervention as possible, if any. But there is no definition of what it is, so anyone can call the wine “natural”.
— Culture raisonnée: there’s not really a good term for this in English. Sometimes “sustainable viticulture “ is used. One can describe it as “almost organic”. They try and not use any chemicals in the vineyard (like organic) but if e.g. grey rot threatens to wreak havoc with the total harvest the allow themselves to treat with chemicals. There is no official definition or certification, but many wine growers say they belong here.
It’s also worth noting that all of the above allow the use of sulphur and copper in the vineyard, if in lesser quantities than “conventional” farming. If you want to know more you can come to the organic wine tasting that we do at Vinisud, together with Vinisud, in Montpellier on February 22. The most organic region in France (in total acreage) is, not surprisingly, Languedoc Roussillon, and the least organic region is, not surprisingly either, Champagne (2008, including vineyards in conversion):
— Languedoc-Roussillon: 8337 ha
— Provence-Côte d’Azur: 6674 ha
— Aquitaine (incl Bordeaux): 3763 ha
— Loire+Centre: 2415 ha
— Rhône/Savoie/Auvergne: 2175 ha
— Alsace: 1261 ha
— Bourgogne: 1231 ha
— Midi-Pyrénées: 735 ha
— Poitou-Charentes: 712 ha
— Corse: 445 ha
— Franche-Comté: 191 ha
— Champagne-Ardennes: 191 ha
Approximately 3% of all vineyards are organic, which is more than for agriculture in general. Italy is the country with the most ecologic vineyards with 36,684 ha. France is second with 22,509 ha.
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