What is ”organic wine”?

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.

This post is also available in: Swedish

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6 Responses to What is ”organic wine”?

  1. Wink Lorch February 27, 2010 at 17:36 #

    That's a good primer on the various systems, however I don't think you are quite correct on the Culture Raisonnée. As with organic viticulture, there are several certification programmes in use. For example in France there is Terra Vitis – see [www_sommelier75cl_com] or AFAQ OR Agri Confiance (which covers various agricultural produce including wine).

    I also believe your interpretation that 'they try not to use any chemicals' is not the case for most of the prodcers who claim to use this system … in order to belong to any of the groups they have to show that they follow the weather forecast and only use chemicals when there is a risk of disease rather than automatically spraying every few weeks. In practice this means they might use an anti-fungal spray 2 or 3 times during the season instead of 6 in the 'bad old days'. Certainly this a step in the right direction, but I do find the systems and controls a bit vague.

  2. Per and Britt February 27, 2010 at 18:53 #

    Wink, Thanks for your comment.

    Actually, I think that you yourself point to the ambiguity.

    There is no official definition of what “culture raisonnée” is as far as I am aware. Therefore anyone who so likes can say he does it. This is different from “organic”. If you say you are "officially" organic, then you must follow the rules for organic culture. (Then again there are many who say "I am organic but I don't bother with the certificate" – but that's a different issue)

    The organisations like Terra Vitis, Nature & Progrès and others are private “clubs” whose members have chosen to follow a certain charter. But those organisation have no claim to any official definition of what culture raisonnée is.

    So e.g. Terra Vitis is not a certification organisation for culture raisonnée – what they control is that the members follow their own private TV charter.

    Or to turn it around: if a grower claims he is doing culture raisonnée then there is no one who can authoritatively say that he does not, since there is no official definition. There is no need to be part of any grouping in order to claim to be culture raisonnée.

    I think you’re confusing the vague concept of ‘culture raisonée’ with the more specific and clearly defined charters that those organisations have. But they have in no way any claim to a definition of CR.

    At least that's the way I understand it.


  3. Per and Britt February 27, 2010 at 20:45 #

    But it would have been a good idea to include a few lines in the text on the private organisations doing 'certifications' too.

  4. Dr. Christian G.E. Schiller February 28, 2010 at 19:19 #

    Good posting. You could add: sustainable, zero carbon footprint and fair trade wines to your list.


    Christian G.E. Schiller
    Schiller Wine

  5. Jeen Dee March 23, 2010 at 18:41 #

    I'm aware of the existence of Organic Herbal Teas but Organic Wines are new to me. How can you determine if the wine is authentically organic?

  6. Orange County SEO April 29, 2010 at 20:45 #

    That is a good question, isn't wine already organically made? I'm an SEO, Orange County is my hometown and it has some of the best wines in America for me.

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