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The 2012 vintage is the first for which the "European Implementing Regulation on Organic Wine" (203/2012), or EU Organic Wine Regulation for short, applies. This so-called cellar directive defines how a wine must be produced in order to be marketed as organic wine and to bear the EU organic label. Before that, there were only legal regulations for organic viticulture, but not for wine production according to organic criteria. Wine from organic cultivation could only be marketed as "wine from organically produced grapes", the designation "organic wine" or "eco-wine" was not permitted and did not even exist legally. What the cellar directive says exactly is summarised in our magazine article "Implementation of the EU Organic Wine Regulation".

Wines% bearing the EU organic label% fulfil the so-called cellar directive and may officially be called "organic wine" or "bio wine". (Source: ec.europa.eu)
Not all organic winegrowers are automatically affected by the Organic Wine Regulation. It is only relevant if the producer in question also wants to officially label and market his wines as organic. In principle, every wine producer is free to choose his or her method of production: He can work conventionally, close to nature, integrated, organic or biodynamic and does so as soon as he follows the principles of the corresponding cultivation method. If he wants to have his working methods in the vineyard and/or wine cellar certified by an association, he must fulfil its respective specifications. If he wants to use the EU organic label for his wines, he must implement the EU cellar directive. Most of the relevant associations have even stricter cultivation and production regulations than those required by the regulation.

Regulation, certification and philosophy

Thierry Julien, President of SudVinBio, the organic wine association in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, is positive about the new directive: "We think that the EU organic wine regulation is a real step forward. After all, we can now talk about organic wine and not just 'wine from organically produced grapes'. That was not easy! How could it be explained to consumers before that even if the labelling only referred to grape growing, winemakers still took the same care and respect for nature in their winemaking? For me, the new regulation brings consistency and will simplify the communication of producers and marketers of organic wine."

But not every producer who works organically or biodynamically also has his wines certified. There can be several reasons for this. For one thing, certification involves considerable organisational, formal and financial effort, because as a rule the entire farm has to be converted to organic agriculture or viticulture. However, there are public funding opportunities for this. On the other hand, certification means that the specifications must be strictly adhered to under all circumstances; exceptions, for example due to particularly adverse weather conditions, do not and by definition cannot exist on certified farms. In this respect, consistent organic viticulture and especially biodynamics are an inner conviction and an integral attitude to life.

Colourful biodiversity in the vineyard: vines and poppies. (Source: A. Lageder Winery)

Change from conventional to organic viticulture

Domaine Joseph Drouhin is one of the largest wine producers in Burgundy. The estate cultivates around 73 hectares of vines, about half in Chablis and half in the Côte d'Or. "That corresponds to more than 50 appellations spread over 150 kilometres," illustrates Frédéric J. Drouhin, who runs the business today. "We process grapes from organic cultivation - certified by Ecocert - but our wines themselves are not certified organic." Meanwhile, they are even produced according to biodynamic criteria.

Drouhin describes in detail the philosophy of the house and its development towards near-natural cultivation: "For us, the decision to switch from conventional to organic viticulture was clearly based on technical considerations. There were too many imponderables associated with the use of new types of plant protection products," Drouhin is convinced that scepticism is called for here: One can never distance oneself enough from chemical agents against fungi, insects and plants in the vineyard, because: "We were convinced that if we used these all-pervasive, systemic products, we would risk altering the functioning of our soils and our vines, and thereby the terroir expression of our wines. We feared the environmental impact and the impact on the health of our winegrowers from the use of synthetic products". Moreover, the vines had been found to be resistant to some diseases that the new products or higher doses would be used to control. This seemed contradictory.

Drouhin has been a family business for four generations: Frédéric J. Drouhin (2nd from left) with his siblings Philippe (right)% Véronique (2nd from right) and Laurent (left). (Source: Domaine J. Drouhin)

Loss of quality due to chemicals in the vineyard

"Moreover, we noticed - with the help of my father's experience, who had taken over the running of the house in 1957 - that while the vines had become 'more beautiful' over time, the wines had become less good," Drouhin continues. "We thought we were on the wrong track, so we decided to return to organic treatments and try to find natural solutions to natural problems, so to speak. We try to understand how the plant behaves, how it develops, and try to stimulate it, taking into account and accompanying its developmental rhythm (roots, leaves, flowering, fruiting) as much as possible." In addition, he said, efforts are being made to reduce the use of sprays as much as possible, especially copper. "Today, we use average amounts of copper that are significantly below the maximum values permitted in organic viticulture," says Drouhin. After eight years, the decision was made to go even further and to practise biodynamic viticulture on the entire area of the domaine.

Thanks to biodynamic farming, the plants are healthy. (Source: Domaine J. Drouhin)
Drouhin has only "extremely limited experience with the EU organic wine regulation, as we have not applied for organic certification of our wines". Nevertheless, he is of course familiar with the directive and has a clear opinion on it: "It would have been desirable if there had been an international vote on the principles of organic viticulture. Today, there are big differences in interpretation and standards between the USA and Europe." For the market, Drouhin considers the distinction between conventionally and organically produced wines more important than the differentiation between wine made from organic grapes and wine with an organic label: "After all, we must not forget that the consumer is standing opposite us. He should enjoy drinking the bottle he has chosen, whether wine from organic grapes or organic wine, because by doing so he is also contributing to the protection of the environment: nature, the soil and people."

Consistency instead of compromise

Alois Lageder of the eponymous winery in South Tyrol also has no real connection to the EU organic wine regulation - even though his wines bear the EU organic label. His winery fulfils the requirements automatically, so to speak, because it works according to the much stricter standards of the international Demeter association. Lageder has 50 hectares of vineyards, all of which are now farmed biodynamically. The EU cellar directive is "a first step, a compromise, the lowest common denominator between all EU wine-growing regions", says the charismatic winemaker, and in this respect it must also be further developed and made stricter. It is "important and necessary", but it is not relevant for biodynamic viticulture. He would prefer to print only the Demeter logo and not the EU organic seal on his labels in order to strengthen the association's brand. The use of the European organic seal is voluntary for wine that complies with the regulations of the cellar directive, but if the wine is explicitly labelled as organic or ecological, it must also be compulsorily labelled with the seal.

The Alois Lageder winery has been certified since 2007, after having started with biodynamic viticulture four years earlier. Holism and sustainability are essential principles in the philosophy of the winery, and these buzzwords are not empty phrases, even if the commitment to quality comes up with many strong terms: "In the sense of a holistic corporate philosophy, we strive to take into account as many elements as possible in our work and to understand their interrelationships: the forces and rhythms of nature, man and culture, technology, cosmos, past and future, tradition and modernity. With this in mind, we rely on biodynamic agriculture and gentle processing in our cellar, which harnesses the latest high-tech in the spirit of nature. We value sustainable business practices in all areas."

Alois Lageder consistently practices biodynamic viticulture. (Source: A. Lageder Winery)

Biodynamics is anthropological agriculture

"Sustainability means conserving the resources of our planet and, in our thoughts and actions, also taking into account future generations, to whom we should leave the environment as it was handed down to us", defines Alois Lageder. To this end, he strives to "always think in contexts, transversely and interdisciplinarily". The human being is at the centre of the anthroposophical world view, founded by the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s, and is placed in relation to the supersensible. "This includes responsibility for the future, appreciation of the living space and respect for nature," says Lageder. However, nature is not the same everywhere, there are different locations and soils, and in this respect sustainability necessarily has a regional component in addition to the social dimension.

For Lageder, sustainability is a component of ecology - and not vice versa. Organic viticulture goes beyond the conservation of resources, and "biodynamic agriculture is the most consistent form of natural work in the vineyard. It respects the laws of wholeness in nature and brings the vine into its natural balance, putting it in relation to the earth and the cosmos". Biodynamics considers the earth in the sense of anthroposophical teachings as an "animated, living organism" and leads back to the "origins of life". "In this sense we work in harmony with the cycles of nature, the moon, the sun and the other planets. In this way we can exploit cosmic and earthly forces to build up humus in the soil, strengthen the vitality of the vines, improve the quality of the grapes and thus create the most important conditions for good wines," Lageder says. "From the planting of the vine to the time of harvest, the work in the vineyard is guided by the natural timing."

Seeding between the rows of vines is part of biodynamic viticulture - this strengthens the vineyard ecosystem. (Source: A. Lageder Winery)

Closeness to nature and authenticity

In practice, biodynamic cultivation means completely dispensing with synthetic chemical pesticides, herbicides and artificial fertilisers, Lageder explains. "Instead, we work to make the vines so resistant that they have sufficient defence and self-healing powers when fungi or pest infestations occur. Soil and plant are treated with biodynamic preparations and homeopathic teas to further strengthen the vines' resistance. In many ways, the winemaker thus helps the vines to help themselves." But not only the vines, but the entire ecosystem in the vineyard benefits from this approach, he says. "Humus management improves soil health and fertility, the vineyard soil is better able to hold water so that artificial irrigation is no longer necessary, and it is protected against erosion. Overall, biodiversity is maintained and promoted in the balanced ecosystem."

According to Alois Lageder, biodynamics is also the way to "express the authentic character of the wines in the best possible way. It is of great concern to us to take into account and make the most of the natural conditions in our vineyards. The biodynamic cultivation method emphasises the individuality of each individual site - and enhances the quality. Our wines are closely rooted to the landscape in which they are created, and we take great care to make the most of a site's characteristics and assets."

Sheep also graze in Alois Lageder's vineyards. (Source: A. Lageder Winery)

Gravity and circle determine the vinification

In 1995 Lageder built a new winery that meets sustainable, ecological and building-biological criteria. An alternative energy concept makes it possible to completely avoid CO2 emissions. "Our primary goal in pressing is to preserve the full quality potential created in the vineyard through care and prudence in the cellar and to implement it in the wines. The grapes are pressed as close to nature as possible. The harmony of man and nature, in synergy with the forces of nature, is important to us, and the most modern technical aids and computer technology support us in maintaining the quality in its purest form," Lageder explains.

The 17-metre-deep round wine press tower follows the principles of the circle and gravity. (Source: A. Lageder Winery)
In order to treat the grapes, the must and the wine as gently as possible, two basic principles of nature are used: gravity and the circle. Both principles are united in the round, 17-metre-deep wine press tower that forms the heart of the facility. Lageder: "The difference in height allows the grapes to be pressed largely without the use of pumps or other mechanical means of transport; in free fall, so to speak. This ensures a gentle and quality-preserving method of working at every stage of vinification. The fermentation tanks, in turn, are arranged in a circle around the point where the grapes slide down. By avoiding long conveying distances, it is possible to gently move the grapes, the must and the wine from one stage of vinification to the next." This economical approach also reflects Lageder's credo: "The less and the later you intervene in the natural processes, the more you let the wine have its peace, the better."

Developing standards

For Lageder, the standards of the international Demeter association are the benchmark in his winery because "Demeter is the oldest and internationally most widespread organic certification and it follows the principles of Rudolf Steiner". In fact, the Demeter logo for organic and biodynamic agriculture has been used since 1928 and may only be used by certified producers who adhere to the strict regulations throughout the entire cultivation and processing process, which has also been verified since the association was founded. The requirements of the European organic regulations for wine and other agricultural products are less demanding than the internal association guidelines, so Demeter wines are always organic wines in the sense of the cellar directive - even if they do not bear the EU organic seal and are therefore not officially designated as such.

Lageder considers the further development of the association and the standardisation of quality guidelines important: "At the moment, different associations for organic and biodynamic agriculture are going in the same direction, and that is a good thing. However, it would be desirable to have a superordinate body that defines and monitors the basic principles of biodynamic agriculture". Only recently, the Demeter wine group in Italy revised the standards for vinification with his participation, "because the international guidelines are not strict enough". Lageder is a strong advocate of common ground: "Producers must get their commitment to organic or biodynamic cultivation out there, then we can achieve a lot. The general consumer is not yet ready to buy a wine because of its certification as organic or biodynamic," even though interest in ecology and sustainability has grown continuously and continues to grow. In this respect, there is still a lot of education and marketing work to be done: raising awareness, sensitising, convincing.

Geothermal energy is also a contribution to sustainability in the wine cellar. (Source: A. Lageder Winery)

Alois Lageder himself has given a lot of positive things to the holistic approach he practices. "Biodynamic agriculture is the greatest enrichment I have experienced in my life," he formulates thoughtfully. He perceives nature much more openly and wants to understand "what the plant needs"; he is learning "to recognise and apply the laws of nature and to understand connections. That is something beautiful and fascinating." And very calmly, very kindly, with insistent seriousness and beyond all doubt, he sums up: "The world is mystery. I feel today that I have understood a little more of this mystery."

The Alois Lageder Winery in the Wine Guide

The Joseph Drouhin Winery in the Wine Guide

To the article "Organic wine in Europe - Part 1: Pays d'Oc wants to promote sustainable viticulture".

To the article "Organic wine in Europe - Part 3: Beyond the borders".

To the article "Organic wine in Europe - Part 4: The floodgates are open".

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