Friday, November 20, 2009

On being organic

Organic wine

It's by coincidence, (or Providence), that the last two wines I drank were organic, and from the south of France. I'm not the type to insist that all viticulture should be organic - no, I dislike extremes, and am not naïve enough to think that this is feasible for all. Not that I don't believe you shouldn't take a non-interventionist approach to your vineyard; on the contrary, I strongly believe that taking care of the health of your vines and land is the most important task for producers. What I'm uncertain on is this insistence from the left-wingers that a wine grown through organic/biodynamic principles reveals the terroir better.

This is tricky. I admire the producers who use only natural fertilizers, and definitely no chemical herbicides or insecticides. But walk a vineyard, and see for yourself - what do you do when you see rot, or mold, or mildew, but to spray? It's a business after all - rigid moral principles or not, you have to take steps to protect your crop.

For this bottle, a 2006 Bergerac, the producer's website states:

This method uses only organic and mineral fertilizers. The plentiful natural flora in the soil is maintained by adding humus and by working the soil with specific equipment all year round.This organic farming excludes the use of chemical weedkillers and fertilizers. The only treatments we use are:

- white oil to keep the branches healthy in late winter.

- copper and sulphur for mildew, oidium and excoriosis

- rotenone in combination with sulphur against leafhoppers

- bacillus thuringiensis against grape-worm

Winemaking is also conducted without the use of synthetic additives and we use temperature control techniques during fermentation; the wine is clarified without ferrocyanide, simply by fining and filtration.This organic method has been used at Château Le Barradis since 1968 and brings us very close to the way wines were made in the past; the absence of residues and low SO2 content make ours a wine of quality (cf the oenological studies).

So the question remains - does a wine made through organic farming reveal the terroir in a clearer sense than a wine made through interventionist (modern, chemical) farming? And is there a significant difference in the taste between the two? The only way to determine the difference, I suppose, would be to taste the two wines together. Same wine, same vintage; different farming methods. While the piece listed on their website (in italics) shows only farming technique, another factor in an organic wine happens in the cellar. Using indigenous yeasts, being judicious with oak, and disallowing all enzymes or additives (tartaric acid, for example), also aid in amplifying the voice of the terroir.

In the end, despite my skepticism, I'm a believer in non-interventionist farming. I believe that using only natural products and letting the land replenish and nurture itself is the only way to profoundly express terroir, in its truest sense. I'll continue searching for these wines, in hopes that these questions can be answered in the glass. Now, is there anyone brave enough in Niagara, to not only commit to this philosophy, but to also be a proponent for it?

One hopes, for wine's sake.


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