Well, since you were asking….wine made from grapes produced under organic principles are some of the purest, most natural wines you will find. Unless, of course, that you drink a "Natural” wine that is actually made from certified organic grapes. More about Natural later!
What’s not in there
When you drink wine made from organically grown grapes, its more about what you’re NOT ingesting than what you are. You see, an organic wine producer works with nature instead of against it, so instead of applying heaps of - usually nasty - chemicals to control pests, diseases and weeds we use other strategies. Instead of spraying the synthetic herbicide glyphosate (Round-up is one of the more infamous brands of this previously-assumed-benign chemical - more about that later) to control weeds, we use 4 legged weed controllers, AKA Wiltshire sheep. These are a lovely, old-fashioned breed that don’t require shearing, nor docking and crutching (all of which require either rather horrible treatment of the animals) and are therefore very low maintenance.
Instead of systemic, synthetic chemicals for controlling mildews the organic wine producer makes use of natural sprays such as sulphur and copper….in limited amounts, of course. There are a great many canopy management techniques (read physical labour) that help us to make those natural sprays more effective. For pests, such as snails and bugs, we simply go through and remove by hand. Sometimes we even eat the snails…especially if we have some French folk staying with us!!! For other pests, such as birds, we use netting to keep the little blighters out.
What’s in it for me
So… you might be thinking…what does this all mean for me, the wine drinker? For a start, you will not be ingesting the individual chemicals, which may or may not cause health issues (although the recent declaration by the WHO that glyphosate is now recognised as “a possible carcinogen” is of considerable concern). Secondly, and possibly more importantly - but it really isn’t known because no-one tests it - is that you’re often drinking a cocktail of wine and chemicals. What is known, is that if wine producers are following the regulations in applying the chemicals, then the amount of residual chemical likely to be present in the wine does not present a significant health risk. However, these chemicals are only tested individually so who knows what we are ingesting when there’s a blend of them in that glass of wine? If you’ve ever experienced the difference between drinking organically grown wines all night compared to the regular ones, you’ll know that you can’t get away with drinking more than a small glass or two of regular wine before you get a headache. “Oh, that’s the sulphur” you might say. And we might say “that could be part of it, but in Australia and Europe, small amounts of sulphur can be added to organic wine, but it’s not much less than the levels in high quality premium wine” so clearly there’s something else going on. The chemical cocktail, me thinks!
Is there any benefit?
Why buy organic
Certified organic guarantees that no synthetic pesticides, herbicides or fungicides have been used in the production of grapes or wine. Buying organic shows that you value your health, that you respect the people growing your food and the planet we all share. Organic producers are typically small, family run enterprises whose passion it is to leave the world in a better place. Sante!
Some statistics you might not want to hear!
According to research data, in the 20 years from 1995 to 2014 total global glyphosate use went from 67 million kg in 1995 to 826 million kg in 2014.
A recent study of regular Californian wines showed that all of them contained glyphosate residue. Further thought provoking research published in February 2018 from Generations Futures shows levels of pesticides in French produce – fruit and vegetables – at increasing levels and grapes as the worst culprit. Meanwhile Que Choisir, a consumer watchdog magazine in France analysed 40 Bordeaux wines, mostly grand cru classés from 2014 and found the majority contaminated with pesticides.
There are many reasons for concern: human health, soil health and long term sustainability are just a few.
The good news is that more wine producers are converting to organic production…albeit at a slow rate (up from 1% of all wine producers in France in 2005, to 9% more recently). Australian statistics are not readily available.
The best news is that we here are Oranje Tractor Organic Farm have been producing our grapes organically since 2002, and have been certified organic since 2005. This means the wines you buy from us have no nasty residual chemicals. Sure, some sulphur is added during the winemaking process to ensure that our beautiful, organic grapes don’t turn into organic vinegar, but it’s way less than what you would find in frozen peas or dried apricots.
The “natural wine” movement is a recent phenomenon, so if you haven’t heard about it don’t feel too out of touch. There’s no legal nor widely agreed-upon definition of natural wine, so it’s a fraught subject. Essentially, however, such wines are made with minimal intervention, so no added yeast, no fining or any other modern winemaking additions, techniques or tricks. Little sulfite is added in the winemaking and thus, natural wines are known for their funkier, gamier, yeastier characteristics and a cloudy appearance. They are often much less fruity and much more yeasty in their aroma profile than a typical wine, smelling almost like yoghurt or in some cases beer. They may or may not be made with certified organic or biodynamic grapes.
But while natural wine is recently trendy, it is not new: People have been making fermented grape juice without additives for thousands of years.
Some of our wines - such as the Pinot Noir, and the soon to be launched Vermouth - fall into the natural category. The majority, however, are simply made (by winemaker par excellence Rob Diletti) with minimal intervention but along conventional lines in that a known yeast is added to ensure full fermentation and the wines are sometimes fined with skim milk to reduce any cloudiness. Not quite “Natural” but definitely not “industrial”.
Enjoy Oranje Tractor wine in moderation, of course!