On the 8th of February the European Standing Committee on Organic Farming (SCOF), agreed the new rules EU rules for “organic wine”.
The organic wine debate started tentatively in 2004 when the Commission pledged to establish specific organic rules for all agricultural production, including wine-making and invested in the “OrWine” research project. Initial results of this study and a first draft proposition to define organic wine was submitted to the SCOF in June 2009, but as no agreement could be reached the proposal was withdrawn in June 2010. The OrWine work resumed and another legal draft proposition was submitted and this time agreed upon earlier this month.
So what exactly does this European agreement on organic wine mean?
From the 2012 harvest, organic wine growers will be allowed to use the term “organic wine” rather than “wine made from organic grapes” on their labels providing they make their wine according to the rules set out in this agreement. When a producer chooses to use the term organic wine, the EU-organic-logo and the code number of their certifier has to be shown on the label as well.
The rules introduce a technical definition of organic wine and identifies oenological techniques including the use of additives.
The most hotly debated wine making technique is without doubt the use of sulphites. The new regulations stipulate the maximum sulphite content for wines with a residual sugar content of 2g/l or less to be 60 mg less than for conventional wines (100mg/l for red and 150mg/l for white and rosé) and for wines with a residual content of more than 2 g/l 30mg/l less. Whilst these rules are significantly more restrictive than conventional winemaking rules, they are a far cry from those advocated by organic certification bodies and natural winemakers. In the US, an organic wine cannot contain ANY sulphites, so this means that any European organic wine shipped to the US needs to be made without sulphites in order to use “organic wine” on the label.
Personally I do believe that use of a small amount of sulphites just before bottling will help enormously to stabilize the wine, especially when one wants to export. I furthermore believe that the new European regulation is liberal enough to allow winemakers to apply for certification knowing that they still have a little room to manoeuvre when they encounter unexpected circumstances.
I also believe that the organic certification is a great thing for the consumer. It is a quality regulation giving certain assurances and the EU-organic-logo makes it easy for them to recognise which wines comply to the rules. A stricter regulation, I feel, would have left lots of wine makers out of the realms of organic wine making, like it did in the US… A lot of wine regions in Europe are marginal and in the end Union regulations have to serve all of the countries involved.
There always will be winemakers making wines which are a lot more “organic’ than the definition requires and consumers will need to know… These wineries have the choice to add extra information to the back labels as well as market their wine as extra organic or natural. I do understand that a lot of then would have like to have seen stricter rules however this would have excluded way too many winemakers when one looks at the whole of Europe….And when only very few people adapt the organic wine principles and logo, I feel it would loses a lot of it’s value…