What do you know about certified organic wines? Do you only have to not spray the grapes with synthetic pesticides and herbicides or is there more to it? How do you know if a wine is made with organically grown grapes?
Your best method to figure out if a wine is certified organic is if there is a certification symbol on a wine’s label. There is not one universal organic certification though. Different countries or regions can have their own version of certified organic. It is also common to find that many organic wines are also vegan-friendly. But make sure there is a vegan-friendly certification on the label as well.
Organic grapes are more easily grown in hot, dry areas and areas that have strong or persistent wind. Helps to keep the grapes dry and keep mold and mildew away. With these climatic advantages, going organic should not be too difficult as you should not require to spray for mold or mildew. The grape grower should be able to spend more time managing leaf and cluster growth in the vines, and maintaining and nourishing the soil. You may find out that the vineyard is supplemented with organic nutrients such as steer manure, green manure (vineyard cuttings and ground crop mowing), seeding clover, vetch, oats, and/or triticale beneath the vines, and allowing sheep, chickens, and ducks to roam the vineyard, and adding worms can all used to improve the soil, and thus improve the vines and grapes.
The Okanagan has a marvelous climate for organic grape growing. It’s arid, with hot days and cool nights. Very little chance for mold and mildew to flourish, compared to wetter, cooler grape-growing regions of the world.
In the rest of the world, some drier, hotter areas would be in Chile, Argentina, Australia, parts of California and Washington state, and the southern or interior regions of Portugal, Spain, France, and Italy. All good candidates for finding organic wines to purchase.
As part of this article, I tasted five certified organic wines, covering BC, Chile, Spain, and Italy. The organic wines have certification label icons by one of CCPB srl, Canada Organic, Ecocert S.A., Pacific Agricultural Certification Society (PACS), and EU Organic Agricultura Ecologica (classified as ES-ECO-026-VAS).
There is co-operation between different certifying bodies so that organic products from one country can be recognized by another country. So far the European Union made equivalency arrangements with Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, South Korea, Costa Rica, Japan, India, Israel, USA, Switzerland, Tunisia, and New Zealand. This means that we have equivalency arrangements with these countries as well.
We have a few organic certifying agencies in Canada. Ecocert Canada, a subsidiary of the Ecocert group, assists stakeholders in the implementation and promotion of sustainable practices through certification, consulting, and training services. Ecocert certifies for agencies around the world such as Canada Organic. PACS is an incorporated not-for-profit society that provides certification, including Canada Organic Regime (COR) organic certification.
The certification bodies include certification for agricultural crops, animals (e.g. cows), bees, and much more. For our discussion, I will cover items applicable to vineyards and wine. CCPB srl from Italy and Canada Organic are two certification bodies that each other recognizes that I will briefly cover. Text from their websites follow.
CCPB srl and Canada Organic have similar principles, covering:
- respecting organic equilibrium, human and animal health and preserving environmental resources.
- maintaining soil fertility and the organisms living in the soil.
- maintain the organic diversity, and ecology, in the environment.
- economic fairness.
There are methods that these agencies use to reach these principles, including.
- no use of GMO materials, irradiation, or nano-technology.
- maintaining and/or introducing conservation programmes to existing natural areas and/or suitable “habitats”, in order to safeguard natural species
- use of hedges and trees must be maintained and/or introduced as buffer zones to organic areas.
- plots used according to the organic method must be well distanced from lots using conventional agriculture, or adequately “protected” from potential risks, such as by buffer zones.
- maintenance and conservation of soil fertility may be achieved by soil working operations, incorporation in the soil of organic matter obtained from plant and/or animal residue, planting and/or conservation of hedges and trees on the sides of parcels and water streams.
- weed control within an organic production system relies on the correct application of special agronomical practices as well as on a series of mechanical and physical interventions, such as selection of weed-competitive species, intercropping, mulching, mechanical working, thermal or electric weed killing, biodynamic preparations, mowing, and pasturing of herbivores.
- minimizing soil compaction from mechanical equipment (e.g. tractors) to maintain the soil structure.
- the fertility and the biological activity of the soil must be maintained and/or increased, where appropriate, by the cultivation of pulse vegetables and deep-rooting plants in an appropriate multiannual rotation programme envisaging the presence of green manures, incorporation in the soil of organic matter, preferably composted, and of organic conditioners, and incorporation of plant residue from previous crops.
- all equipment, harvest and storage containers, storage facilities, and packaging materials treated with acceptable organic products.
Conversion to Organic Production
A winery cannot have its vineyard certified immediately upon application. There is a three-year process to become certified organic for vineyards, which are perennial crops. Annual crops only require a two-year conversion period. During the conversion period, having an organic plan is required (plus after being certified):
- the owner shall prepare an organic plan outlining the details of the transition, production, preparation, and management practices.
- the organic plan shall be updated annually to address changes to the plan or management system, problems encountered in executing the plan, and measures taken to overcome such problems.
- the organic plan shall include a description of the internal record-keeping system, with documents sufficient to meet traceability requirements
- prohibited substances shall not have been used for at least 36 months before the harvest of an organic crop.
- when new production units are added (e.g. a winery buys more vineyard land) to an existing organic operation, the operator shall provide records to show that prohibited substances have not been used for at least 36 months.
- the plan should detail promote and protect ecosystem health for at least one of insects, pollinators, wildlife habitat, riparian areas, and wetlands.
For complete details for Canada Organic and CCPB requirements, follow these links:
Does Organic Wine Cost More?
I lastly want to note that going organic may seem like more work, which would cost the winery more money, and the costs would be passed on to you, which may not necessarily be true. Using the methods outlined to keep the vineyards healthy and strengthen the biodiversity in the vineyard may make the vineyard more resilient to pests and stress and cost no more than using traditional agricultural practices. I have purchased many quality organic wines that are at all price points, just like wines from traditionally farmed grapes.
Besides organic certification, you may have heard of biodynamic and regenerative farming certification. These two methods are long articles themselves. I will try to cover these two topics in future articles. For now, let me tell you about five organic wines I recently tasted.
My Organic Wines Tasting Notes
Masi Fresco di Masi Wines
Fresco di Masi wines are relatively new and are very simply made. Three steps:
- press the grapes as soon as they are harvested.
- ferment the must on its own yeasts.
- transfer to bottle unfiltered.
Masi Fresco di Masi Bianco Verona IGT 2020, Italy (BC $21.99)
Made from a blend of Garganega, Chardonnay, and Pinot Grigio grapes in the Veneto region. A vegan-friendly wine.
Appearance: A medium-plus bright mix of lemon and straw colours.
Nose: Medium-plus to pronounced aromas of oranges and lemons, juicy stone fruits, plus touches of lime, lychee and bramble leaf. Pronounced aromas of oranges with decanting, along with the juicy stone fruits, lychee, bramble leaf, and lime. I also now picked up a touch of honey on the nose.
Palate: Slightly off-dry, smooth, and round with a lighter mouthfeel. Light acidity. A mix of pears, apples, lime, lemon pith, and peach flavours with orange and bramble leaf added with swirling. Medium body with decanting with stronger peach flavour and less bramble. The wine also has a thicker mouthfeel, but still smooth and round, and the other fruit flavours persist.
Finish: A medium-plus length finishing with flavours of pears, apricots, grapefruit and some pepperiness. A bit steely on the finish. Tarter finish with decanting. Peach is now present and does not have a steely edge.
A crushable wine that has very expressive fruit aromas and flavours. Drink now or leisurely sip the next day.
Rating: – Medium-plus bright mix of lemon and straw colours. Medium-plus aromas of oranges, lemons and juicy stone fruits. Touches of lime and lychee. Dry, round and smooth with a light mouthfeel. Pears, apples, lime and peaches, plus orange and bramble leaf with air. Medium-plus length finishing with stone fruits, some pepperiness and light acidity.
Masi Fresco di Masi Rosso Verona IGT 2020, Italy (BC $21.99)
Made from Corvina and Merlot grapes in the Veneto region. A vegan-friendly wine. From the winery, “In all our plants, 15% of energy needs come from solar panels. the name “Fresco di Masi”, chosen to indicate the natural, intact nature of a genuine wine produced from organic grapes harvested during the coolest hours and immediately vinified, without drying, without being transferred into wooden casks, only with the wild yeasts of the grapes, decanted and not filtered.”
Appearance: A lighter garnet colour, translucent to the core.
Nose: Very light, youthful red fruit and raspberry aromas. Same aromas after decanting.
Palate: Slightly off-dry, soft, round, medium body but light mouthfeel. Very light fine tannins that firm up on the finish. Medium acidity gives liveliness to the wine. Floral, red fruit, red cherries then candied red cherries on the palate. More floral and red fruit flavours with decanting with a hint of dark chocolate bitterness as well.
Finish: Medium-plus length, finishing off-dry with candied cherry flavour plus a touch of pepperiness. Firmer drying tannins on the finish. Candied cherries, dark chocolate, and firm tannins on the finish with decanting.
The wine has a bigger mouthfeel with decanting and the touch of dark chocolate making it feel a bit more complex. A short decant is recommended.
Rating: – with decanting. A lighter, clear to the core, garnet colour. Light, youthful aromas of red fruit and raspberries. Slightly off-dry, medium body, round and soft. Red fruit, red cherries, candied red cherries, and floral flavours. Plus some dark chocolate bitterness with decanting. Candied red cherries and firmer tannins on the finish.
Cono Sur Pinot Noir Organic Wine 2019, Chile (BC $14.99 on sale till July 2)
Appearance: A medium-intensity garnet colour with consistent colour from rim to core.
Nose: Medium-minus nose with aromas of matchstick + hint of vegetal, red fruit, red cherries and a touch of vanilla. Lighter aromas with decanting. It still has the matchstick + vegetal plus red fruit, and fewer cherry and vanilla aromas.
Palate: Dry, lean with a light mouthfeel. Medium acidity and light tannins. Waves of flavours starting with floral, red fruit, raspberries, red cherries, and then plums. Some matchstick with air. Floral and raspberry flavours are prominent after decanting to start the sip, followed by cherries and plums. Smoother, heavier mouthfeel.
Finish: Medium-plus length finishing dry with a bit firmer tannins. Red fruits and red cherry flavours, plus some bitterness and light toast. Floral picks up on the finish. Flavours persist with decanting, and the tannins lighten up.
I do not have a preference for whether this wine is decanted or not. You get similar aromas and flavours. So open and enjoy.
Rating: A clear to the core medium garnet colour. Lighter aromas of matchstick, red fruit, red cherries, and a touch of vanilla. Dry, medium body, lean with a light mouthfeel. Light tannins and medium acidity. Layers of flavours starting with floral, progressing through red fruit, raspberries, red cherries, and plums. A medium-plus length finishing dry with red fruits, red cherries, then some bitterness and light toastiness. Light tannins.
Haywire Switchback Vineyard Pinot Gris 2017, Okanagan BC (The 2019 vintage is BC $29.99)
The Switchback Vineyard has been farmed organically since 2011. The grapes for this wine were whole-cluster pressed and fermented in concrete tanks using native yeasts then left on the gross lees for 10 months. This is a vegan-friendly wine.
Appearance: A bright, clear, medium-plus intensity lemon colour.
Nose: Medium-plus intensity nose with aromas of pears, peach, and toastiness / concrete, plus a touch of honey. No change to the aromas with decanting.
Palate: Dry, fuller body, with a thicker round mouthfeel. Prominent acidic prickle adds backbone to this wine. Stone fruits, roasted pears, and a touch of apples toward the finish. More ripe pears flavours plus honey toward the finish with decanting.
Finish: Medium-plus length finishing with flavours of stone fruits, apple skin, a touch of pepperiness, some grape skin tannins and the persistent acidic prickle. No change to the flavours or length with decanting.
A classy white wine that has a few years of age on it. Decant or not is OK.
Rating: A bright, medium-plus intensity lemon colour. Toast/concrete, pears and a touch of honey on the nose. Medium-plus body, dry, with a thick and round mouthfeel. Stone fruits, roasted pears and a touch of apples toward the finish. Medium-plus length with stone fruits, grape skin tannins, and touches of pepperiness and apple skin on the finish.
Faustino Rioja Organic Wine 2020, D.O.Ca. Rioja, Spain (BC $19.99)
100% Tempranillo grapes. Fermentation in stainless steel tanks at 24ºC. A vegan-friendly wine.
Appearance: A deep dull, purple-ruby colour.
Nose: Medium-minus intensity nose with aromas of fresh, juicy purple fruit, ripe raspberries, and black currants. Same aromas and intensity after decanting.
Palate: Off-dry, medium-plus body, round and smooth. You get juicy berries, plums, raspberries and red cherries, black currants, and a touch of violet on the palate. Very light tannins and acidity. The flavours also stayed the same after decanting.
Finish: A medium-length finishing with juicy berries, cherries, and light pepperiness. Light oak and some dusty tannins. A smoother finish with decanting.
A wine with juicy berry aromas and flavours. Meant to be opened and enjoyed.
Rating: A deep dull purple-ruby colour. Medium-minus aromas of fresh juicy purple fruit, ripe raspberries, and black currants. Off-dry, medium-plus body, smooth and round. Juicy berries, plums, raspberries, and touches of pepperiness and nutmeg on the palate. A medium-length finishing with juicy berries and cherries, light pepperiness, and dusty tannins.
Where Can I Buy These Wines?
As you can see above, the prices for these organic wines seem to fall in line with other wines from traditional farming methods.
The Cono Sur Pinot Noir Organic Wine 2019 is available at BC Liquor Stores.
Haywire Switchback Vineyard Pinot Gris 2019 is available for purchase through the winery online.
Faustino Rioja Organic Wine 2020 can be purchased at BC Liquor Stores.
Thank you to Authentic Wine and Spirits Merchants and Select Wines for providing me with samples to review for this article. The Haywire wine came from my cellar.