You’ve probably noticed more organic wine appearing on the shelves in supermarkets, independent retailers and specialist wine stores. In fact, sales of organic wine have rocketed, as we become ever-more aware that how we farm directly affects the quality of our food and drink.
Provenance is now a top priority when we’re shopping, particularly for wine, beer and other alcoholic drinks. What's more, with Aldi's affordable organic prosecco, Waitrose's organic range now spanning 54 wines from 18 different countries and a wealth of fantastic organic vineyards now cropping up in the UK, it’s never been easier to find, try and buy organic wine – in fact, the UK market share for organic wines is set to double by 2022.
Find out what organic wine really means, how it differs from natural and biodynamic wines, and and why organic certification matters.
When you opt for organic wine, you’re choosing a product that’s been certified to organic standards by law, meaning that you can be sure it has met strict requirements, covering everything from pesticide use and land management, to preservation and storage:
Wines certified by the Soil Association must meet strict criteria regarding the use of pesticides. Of the 300 or so pesticides permitted under EU law, just 20 are permitted under organic standards, all of which derive from natural ingredients.
By working with nature, organic farms help promote biodiversity that, in turn, encourages natural pest control. Planting flowering ‘cover crops’ between the vines, for example, can help attract the natural predators of grape-eating insect. These measures help create a self-regulating ecosystem for vineyards, meaning organic wines can be made without reliance on potentially-harmful pesticides. As such, organic farms often become havens for wildlife, providing homes for bees, birds and butterflies, up to 50% more on average.
Soil Health & Terroir:
Organic farms put soil at the forefront of their practice, encouraging strong root structures and healthy, biologically active soil that's teeming with life. Terroir is the term used in winemaking to describe the way geography, geology, climate intersect to affect taste and flavour. It goes without saying that in a farming system that takes soil and the environment into such close consideration, a good terroir will follow.
It’s a long lasting belief that you can taste good earth in wine, and as organic farming keeps the soil at its core, it makes sense that organic wines should taste more of earthy goodness than others.Lee Holdstock, Soil Association Certification
Save Our Soils:
The impact of the rising demand for wine has been well documented, with widespread soil erosion devastating the Prosecco-growing regions of northern Italy in recent years. Intensive farming to meet the demands of a 500 million-bottle a year industry means that an estimated 400,000 tonnes of soil are lost each year at the heart of the Prosecco region.
An urgent rethink is required if we are to continue to meet the demand of high-quality wines on this scale. Organic farming can help to reduce soil erosion by encouraging strong root structures and nutrient rich soil, whilst the practice of planting hedgerows, trees and cover crops are crucial for covering topsoil preservation, preventing it from drying in the sun, and from washing away in the rain.
The reality of Britain’s changing climate means that long, dry summers are gradually becoming the norm in the UK. Whilst this has made conditions increasingly difficult and unpredictable for many British farmers, it does mean that vineyards are set to become a more familiar sight in the UK. The past few years have seen British vineyards holding their own on the world stage, so it’s slowly becoming possible to enjoy gorgeous organic wines with a greatly reduced carbon footprint.
The social enterprise at Forty Hall Vineyard is a fantastic example. Unexpectedly nestled away in North London, their vegan, organic Brut is so tasty it won the ‘Best Wine’ category at our prestigious BOOM awards.
Davenport Vineyards create gorgeous organic wines from their home in Kent and East Sussex, whilst the Oxney Estate farm cite “significant improvements to the countryside… the wildlife we see here with so many birds is just incredible” - great news from the UK’s biggest organic vineyard. Likewise, Quoins vineyard in Bradford-on-Avon has become a true wildlife haven:
Each season brings its own delights, from the song of the larks in early summer to the lurid spindle berries of autumn… by growing organically, we avoid the greenhouse gas emissions from artificial fertilisers, and instead sequester carbon by planting perennial cover crops, trees and hedges.Alan Chubb, Founder of Quoins Vineyard
Sulphur Dioxide - the culprit behind your hangovers?
Soil Association organic standards place strict measures on the quantity of sulphur dioxide used in certified organic winemaking. Whilst this additive is commonly used, and indeed is naturally-occurring in small quantities, some people are allergic or intolerant, causing headaches and other unwanted symptoms.
Soil Association standards go a step further by not only limiting the amount of sulphur dioxide that can be added to wine, but also the levels of ‘free’ sulphur dioxide that are left in the bottle after the initial winemaking process. Drinking organic wine (in moderation) might well leave you feeling less sorry for yourself the next day!
Higher certification standards for organic wine mean it is low in sulphites, while research shows that organic crops and products – including organic red wine – have higher levels of antioxidant rich bioflavonoids.Lee Holdstock - Soil Association Certification
The term ‘natural wine’ is often used, as an umbrella term to describe organic and biodynamic wines, but there are no legal standards for this definition. Looking for the Soil Association logo on a bottle is one easy way to be sure that the product you’re buying has been produced to the very highest organic standards, upheld under EU law.
Previously, “Made with Organically Grown Grapes” was legally the only claim possible, but regulations introduced in 2012 now allow the whole winemaking process, from harvest to bottle, to be certified by law. This means that the term ‘organic’ can now be guaranteed as a byword for trust and transparency, setting organic wine aside from the broader umbrella description of ‘natural’ wines, which has no legal definition.
Biodynamic principles are largely similar to organic in growing methods and use of pesticides and herbicides, yet biodynamic growers tend to incorporate a more philosophical ethos to their farming, seeing agricultural sites as holistic organisms, with their own individual nature. This approach was influenced by the practices of Rudolf Steiner, and often includes planting with the phases of the moon and a strong focus on composting and recycling materials, creating a striving for a closed-loop system with minimal external inputs. Many organic wines you can find on shelves will also be biodynamic, but it's worth knowing that there is a difference in their meaning and the requirements for their classification.
Want to buy an organic bottle?
Organic wines are widely available across the UK, but one of the best places to find them is in independent retailersFind your local indie