There's something about organics that brings out the best and worst in people, especially those who see the world in black and white. Add the word "wine" to the conversation and you have a debate of mammoth proportions.
The online Organic Journal offers a definition of organic wine by writers Adam Morgenstern and Evan Spingam that covers most of the bases yet illustrates the problem of trying to pigeon hole an explanation everyone can agree on.
In the vineyard, "organic wine is made from grapes that have been grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides." At the winery, production should be guided by "little or no manipulation of wines by reverse osmosis, excessive filtration, or flavour additives (such as oak chips)."
Add to that the raging debate on how sulphites should or should not be used in organic wine production (standards vary across the world) and you have quite a mess. Similar issues surround the somewhat more cerebral bio-dynamic winemaking standards based on the teachings of Austrian anthroposophist, Rudolph Steiner (1861-1925), that bring homeopathic and astrological considerations into the organic process.
Minutiae aside, in 25 years of interviewing winemakers and grape growers, it's clear to me that there's a growing awareness among all involved that the Earth is a precious, finite resource and what they do every day has an effect on their health, the health of their employees and families, and the health of their customers. More and more producers rightly see themselves as stewards of the land and they conduct themselves and their businesses accordingly.
Are there still cheaters? Yes. Do some use organics to pass off poor wine to unsuspecting consumers? You bet. But that happens in all facets of life. Natural wines, green wines, Earth-friendly wines, fish-friendly wines, organic wines and biodynamic wines are only words, not deeds. The bigger picture is the wine business at the grass roots level is taking the lead in instituting all measures of environmentally responsible agriculture and wine production.
In places like Chile, California and New Zealand, the wine industry has launched comprehensive programs to change the culture of wine growing from the ground up, including trying to effect cultural change among its employees as well. In South Africa, wine producers are also at the forefront of removing non-indigenous vegetation and letting the land return to its normal state.
None of these programs are necessarily certified by government agency, but like many of Europe's producers who work organically and do not seek certification, caring for their special piece of dirt to the best of their ability may be the most important result of all. The good news for wine buyers is the field of wines made with organically grown grapes is expanding quickly and that means more choice.
Here's a short list of some of my favourite organically grown wines available in BC. There's a slow movement to make these wines easier to find in retail stores, so look for an "organic" section. In the case of BC Liquor Stores, you can search its Web site, bcliquorstores.com, and get a small list of organic products, including beer and spirits.
Organic sparkling wine is less abundant but a favourite from Spain. A personal go-to fizz is Parés Baltà Cava Brut B N/V ($20). You will love the fresh, nutty, creamy, apple skin and floral aromas and dry, elegant style. The flavours are a mix of nutty, mineral, floral red apple notes with a creamy texture. Quite sophisticated and clean. An attractive style for current drinking that works well with a variety of foods.
If pink bubble is your style, look for the Italian Villa Teresa Rosé Veneto Vino Frizzante ($14.50) . It has an attractive pale salmon colour and a fresh, open, red fruit nose. On the palate you taste soft, candied cherry fruit flavours bolstered by the frizzante or spritz that keeps it light and fresh. A simple playful pink for tapas style appetizers or light evening meals.
The Cono Sur Organic Chardonnay 2009 ($14.49) comes out of the Valle de San Antonio near Chile's Pacific Coast. It is an organic un-oaked chardonnay under screwcap that is ridiculously tasty for the price. The entry is fresh, crisp and just off-dry with nettle, lemon, grapefruit, gooseberry, passion fruit flavours and a touch of grass. We love the juicy mineral, green guava finish. Try this with a whole roasted chicken stuffed with lemons and rosemary.
Ecco Marqués de Vitoria Rioja (Organic) 2009 ($15) is a 100 per cent organically grown Spanish tempranillo. The nose is awash in raspberry- and liquorice-scented fruit with bits of cedar and spice. The attack is all cassis and raspberry fruit with flecks of earth and licorice and mushrooms. The tannins are soft and sweet. Drink now with earthy dishes.
From the Rhone Valley, any Chapoutier estate wine is natural, eschewing chemicals, fertilizers and sprays, and harvesting grapes by hand and using only natural yeasts to produce unfiltered wines. The M. Chapoutier Belleruche Côtes du Rhône 2009 ($18.50) has a fresh black cherry, plum, orange, peppery, spicy, gamey, licorice aromas and flavours flecked with dried herbs and dark chocolate flavours. Full, warm, well-balanced and fine value.
The Emiliana Adobe Syrah Reserva Orgánico 2007 ($15) from Valle del Colchagua in Chile has a smoky blue and black fruit nose and flavour with peppery, spicy, mineral, notes in the mouth. The palate is slippery with a lush dense-weight, New World syrah finish. Great value here in a wine made from organically grown grapes.
Our still cool nights should have you reaching for Fonseca Terra Prima Reserve Port N/V ($33) . Terra Prima is the only "Reserve" port that we know of in the market made from organically grown grapes and organic grape spirits. Expect a drier style and a rich palate of coffee, tobacco, cedar, menthol, dried fig, black tea and smoky, raisin flavours. Serve this one fireside after dinner and let the organic debate begin.
Anthony Gismondi is a globetrotting wine writer who makes his home in West Vancouver, British Columbia. For more of his thoughts on wine log onto www.gismondionwine.com.