Organic Wines are growing at 22.1% per year (Nielsen Scantrack) compared to the rather dismal general UK wine growth and they are associated with a younger ‘more environmentally caring’ generation of 21-35 years. These two facts in their own right suggests that Organic, Natural, and Biodynamic (O.N.B.) wines need a hard look at. Who better to discuss with than Isabelle Legeron – author, Master of Wine, award winning taster and RAW wine fair founder.
Organic Wines are growing, and so are the number of establishments serving organic food. These outlets may not market themselves as organic but they care about what goes through their kitchen, on the plate as much as their customers do. Careful food sourcing should equal careful drinks sourcing – it just makes sense according to Isabelle.
Organic wines are not just a fad, they have been around for as long as win itself. In the last 5 years they have been growing significantly. This sector is resilient – it has been through lots of ups and downs, and recently is no different. The 2017 harvest, the worst in 50 years, has been exceptionally difficult for the O.N.B. sector. Frost reduces the harvest by pinching the flowers, drought reduces the grape juice content and if there is disease at harvest there are no heavy duty chemicals to use to clense the grapes and juice. O.N.B. producers’ exposure is much greater.
One of the reasons that it is so resilient is that the customers for these wines share similar values to their producers. They are many times more likely to care about environment and about what food and drink they put into their body. These are, of course, contemporary subjects and chosen not by accident but by choice.
Labelling is THE issue
However Isabelle doesn’t believe that most people understand the difference between the different classifications of wine – natural, biodynamic, organic. That is why she and RAW try to educate consumers about the wines and their terminology. The problem centres around labelling and the transparency of the wine industry’s production values. The food industry has particularly stringent labelling laws; whereas there are few in comparison for the wine industry.
There is a common notion that because wine includes alcohol then it kills anything nasty in the wines. However that is not the case. On the contrary, Isabelle argues, it concentrates the pesticide residues in both wine and spirits. So consumers should be really asking themselves is this what they want to be drinking?
Stronger Legal Framework
She is a campaigner for a much stronger legal framework within which wine is made bought and sold, with transparency underpinning the production techniques and ingredients. She goes further and suggests that if the standpoint were that wines were produced organically and naturally in the first place then we wouldn’t need all the vocabulary of organic, natural, biodynamic because the basic assumption is that the wine is clean to start with.
If you require extensive chemical additions because your region has water issues –too much or too little – then maybe it should be questioned whether you farm there at all. However the lobby against a more transparent framework is so strong that it is unlikely to happen any time soon.
Certification – Trust & Integrity
But isn’t the approval certification system, just a paymaster system, which gives a piece of paper but does not necessarily guarantee the authenticity? Perhaps, surprisingly Isabelle agrees, up to a point. Her preference is that you get to know the producer and their values and culture, however she accepts that this is not practicable for most consumers. In that case the certification forms a good backstop.
From a producers perspective certification adds value. It provides a framework which when the tough times come, as in 2017 for example, and the environment might suggest that you give up your O.N.B. values, you are much less likely to do so because the rules exist. On a commercial level, then certification is also persuasive as there are certain countries, which require the marks in order to trade legally. It’s a double edged sword and comes back to trust, integrity and authenticity.
The RAW wine fair, on 11-12th March – is now in its 7th edition. It started in 2012, and now goes to Berlin, New York and Los Angeles – the Vinexpo of Organics perhaps! The fair went international because it became a great way for producers to access all of their distributors and customers, and keep them up to date with vineyard, winery and production developments.
As a result Berlin has now become a hub for the vibrant Russia market. Restauranteurs from St. Petersberg and Moscow are all over O.N.B. wines. It is a young scene but really happening. In contrast Germany and the UK are tough markets, where value is difficult to eek out, but nonetheless important for the higher volumes and greater visibility. It is an almost underground community, where everone knows each other in a global network. It is not unlike the mycelium connecting trees underground, passing on messages, sharing critical information.
RAW Wine Week
In the USA RAW successfully recruited 100 outlets to the RAW Wine week. It is an opportunity for establishments to sport their Organic, Natural Biodynamic credentials. For an outlet to get involved all you need to do is register on the website with the producers featured wine and RAW do the rest. Good organic wine is the preserve of all.
Naturally (pardon the pun) Isabelle drinks O.N.B. wines, in fact she believes that her taste can accommodate nothing else. She proposes that modern winemaking is just 50 years old, where high degrees of mechanisation became involved. This had the effect of moving styles away a traditional rustic, wholesome flavour towards the polished fruit styles so beloved of many so called New World countries. In Sauternes a producer can elect to produce via a cryo-extraction system rather than natural vine created sweetness. Although she is not against science contributing, it is about the transparency – consumer choice of knowing the way in which it is produced.
She enjoys finding out about any fermented product – cider is a new favourite, perry, sake etc. But over everything, Isabelle cares about the products she puts into and on her body it has to be produced naturally .
Non-Organic Wine like Serving Battery Chicken
There is one resonant point for the on-trade where hand selling is strong. If you really care about where your lamb, fish and vegetables come from and how they are grown, then you should care about what goes on your wine list. It is logical, rational and reasonable. Otherwise putting mass-produced ‘chuck any grapes in there’ wine is the equivalent of serving battery farmed chicken. If careful procurement is what your food is about, why not apply the same rigour to your drinks selection?
Alistair Morrell, Hospitality & Catering News, Wine & Drinks Editor