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Only 30 years ago, organic winegrowers were laughed at as grain-eating cranks, and their wines often had a dubious reputation. Today, many organic wines are among the world's best and more and more wine drinkers attach particular importance to the fact that the vineyard ecosystem is not exploited but protected. For many years, the demand for organic wines has been increasing, especially in Germany. According to current figures from the Nuremberg BioFach trade fair, organic wine production has increased by more than 70 percent since 2013 in the three largest wine-producing countries Spain, France and Italy alone. The share of organically certified vineyards in Europe as a whole has grown 3.4-fold since 2008 to 9.5 percent. A positive, even important trend, in our view.

Italy at the top

Although the Italians themselves do not drink much organic wine, Italy has the highest share of the world's organic vineyard area with 15.9 percent, and the trend is rising. Around 90 percent of Italian organic wine is exported. For many wineries, the organic label has become an important sales argument.

At the same time, certification for Italian organic farmers is associated with extreme bureaucratic effort and high costs, so that many wineries that work organically unfortunately still do without official recognition. Vicky Schmitt from the Chianti Classico winery Le Fonti can only confirm this: "In Italy, organic certification is a nerve-racking thing that many shy away from. We too worked organically for almost ten years before we finally got round to having the vineyards officially certified in 2014.

Raffaella Usai

It is all the more gratifying that many of Vicky Schmitt's fellow winemakers have also taken this step in recent years. The Chianti Classico growing region, for example, has become one of the showcase appellations for organic viticulture in Italy, with around 40 per cent of its vineyards certified organic. In a national comparison, the historic wine-growing region, located between Florence and Siena, is way ahead (only Franciacorta in Lombardy has an even more impressive figure of 60 percent organically certified vineyards).

Giovanni Manetti, current president of the Chianti Classico Consortium, is proud of this pioneering role. "It is a great added value both for the winegrowers themselves and for the consumers that we protect our growing area and its biodiversity in the best possible way. In the last twenty years, more and more wineries in our appellation have jumped on the bandwagon because they too have recognised the benefits.

Raffaella Usai

Panzano gave the starting signal

The organic revolution began in Panzano, a district of the municipality of Greve in Chianti. As early as 1995, the local winegrowers founded the association "L'Unione Viticoltori di Panzano in Chianti" with the aim of promoting organic farming. In 2008, the private research station for sustainable viticulture Spevis was founded in Panzano, whose director Ruggero Mazzilli has been supporting the wineries in word and deed since 2005.

In addition to advising on the conversion to organic farming, Spevis provides the winegrowers with up-to-date advice for preventive plant protection through its monitoring services. Furthermore, Spevis tests and develops new cultivation techniques and products in experimental vineyards.

Vicky Schmitt's vineyard is also located in Panzano. She is enthusiastic about Mazzilli's work: "Without the support of Spevis, we winegrowers would not have managed to have 90 percent of all vineyards in Panzano cultivated organically today. Thanks to the research station, we can always react in time to problems in the vineyard.

From Panzano, the organic trend has spread to other municipalities in the production area: Castellina in Chianti, Gaiole in Chianti, Radda in Chianti, Castelnuovo Berardenga and San Casciano Val di Pesa. On the initiative of organic farmers, these municipalities joined forces in 2016 to form the so-called Biodistretto del Chianti. This legally regulated organic district is an association of organic farmers, agronomists, shops, restaurants and end consumers who work together to promote organic farming and lifestyles in their region.

Giovanni Manetti (President Consortium): "Today, more and more winegrowers are striving for an ecological balance in the vineyard and are committed to reducing interventions in nature and their negative consequences. The big challenge is to coordinate a common strategy for all branches of agriculture. I am confident that this will succeed, because the awareness of the farmers has changed, which is clearly shown by the continuous growth rates of the organic cultivation area in our region.

From Ruggero Mazzilli I would like to know to what extent climate change has affected organic farming: "In some respects, climate change has made organic farming easier, however, it has created many other, new problems for all winegrowers. However, I am convinced that organic winegrowers are in the end better prepared for unforeseen weather events because they are more attentive and prudent with their vineyards, due to the special way of farming.

Raffaella Usai

The challenge of organic?

Indeed, an organic winegrower has to organise his work in the vineyard in a much more foresighted and individual way than a conventionally working one, since he primarily does preventive work. In addition to organic plant care, this includes the diverse measures to maintain and improve soil vitality in order to increase the natural resistance of the vines. Instead of a lifeless monoculture, the aim is an intact ecosystem with great biodiversity, which has an effect not least on vine health and grape quality.

In organic viticulture, there is no standard answer. The winemaker's agronomic skills are in demand, as he cannot resort to curative systemic remedies to solve the problem that arises. At first glance, conventional cultivation seems much easier: one problem, one answer. Is this the reason why many still find it difficult to switch to organic?

Ruggero Mazzilli (Spevis) is convinced that the initial extra work pays off: "Of course, after the conversion, a winegrower first has to learn how to deal with the new challenges. But once he has internalised it, he will notice many advantages. Among other things, the lifespan of an organically managed vineyard is much longer and this in turn saves costs.

For winemaker Vicky Schmitt (Le Fonti), organic means above all health benefits: "An important reason for the conversion was that we no longer wanted to put the health of our family and employees at risk and wanted to be able to taste grapes from the vineyard at any time with a clear conscience. “

European Commission website

A brief history of organic wine

When we speak of organic wine as a matter of course these days, we should be aware that this designation has come a long, hard-fought way in Europe. It began as early as 1991 with the first European regulation on organic farming and the production of organic food. The regulation made it possible to sell "wine made from organically grown grapes", (the designation "organic wine" was not yet allowed at that time). In the following years, organic viticulture and organic cellar management increased continuously. German and Austrian winegrowers were the pioneers in the beginning, other countries followed hesitantly but caught up quickly.

Although the production of organic wine was regulated by private-law standards and guidelines such as those of Bioland®, Ecovin® or Demeter®, wine producers increasingly pushed for the adoption of a common regulation.

In fact, European organic wine producers had to wait until 2012 to be allowed to market uniformly certified organic wine regulated according to EU standards, which could now finally be called organic wine. There was disagreement in the run-up, especially with regard to the limit values for sulphur dioxide for wine stabilisation. Germany and Austria in particular resisted a general lowering of the sulphur values by 50 milligrams per litre for organic wines, while the Mediterranean states insisted on generally lower sulphur values. A solution was only found when the wine categories were reorganised and defined via the residual sugar content, so that different sulphur limits could be set for the individual categories: The maximum sulphite values for organic wines with less than two grams of residual sugar per litre are 50 milligrams lower than for conventional wines (red wine: 100 instead of 150 mg/l, white wine: 150 instead of 200 mg/l). If the residual sugar content is more than two grams per litre, the total sulphur content may be 20 milligrams higher (120 mg/l for red wine and 170 mg/l for white wine). This regulation accommodated the German and Austrian winegrowers with their often somewhat residually sweeter wines without disadvantaging the southern European winegrowers. The values are still valid today.

By the way, for environmentally conscious wine drinkers wein.plus has for many years already Search function organic wine introduced the organic wine search. Search for yourself!

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