Green with envy: Organic wine
This issue’s State of Play reveals that despite the challenges, Australia’s organic wine producers are a committed bunch and the proof of their dedication is in the tasting.
Maurice O’Shea was Australia’s first great organic winemaker. He didn’t use synthetic chemical fertilisers to help his vines grow, he didn’t use herbicides like Round-Up to keep the weeds away, nor did he spray his Hunter Valley vines with synthetic pesticides that kill any and all bugs that dare to step a tiny foot near his verdant green vines. O’Shea was organic way before any trendy sommeliers, or some wine writers for that matter, thought it was cool. The thing is, though, O’Shea was organic because, at the time, there was no other way. He was an organic winegrower by default. There were plenty of pesticides available for him to use, but these were derived from naturally occurring (though still potentially harmful) minerals and plant products, like copper, lead, manganese, zinc, and nicotine sulphate extracted from the relatives of tobacco. All that changed after the Second World War when the scientific boffins who had developed particular products to use in explosives and chemical warfare, by manipulating molecules and rearranging atoms, also discovered that some of these new synthetic chemicals were sometimes less lethal to humans, yet still just as lethal to insects. And so, the agrochemical industry was born.
What is organic wine?
Nowadays, many winegrowers can choose whether to use these synthetic agrochemicals, or not. Those that do choose to use such chemicals are said to farm ‘conventionally’ – which is a little odd considering it’s a less than 100-year-old tradition – and those that choose not to use such synthetic chemicals are said to farm ‘organically’. Thus, organic wines are wines made from grapes that have been grown without the use of any synthetic chemicals.
“Growing and making organic wines means no artificial herbicides, pesticides, chemicals or fertilisers are used in either the vineyard or the winery,” says Richard Angove from Angove wines in McLaren Vale. Richard is a fifth generation Angove winegrower. His family has been growing and making wine in McLaren Vale since 1886.
“As a multi-generational, family-owned business, looking after our environment has always been an important philosophy. Organic farming is just a natural extension of that thinking,” says Richard. “We think that if we look after our soil, our vines will produce grapes of the highest quality every season. So, it’s important we nurture our soils to keep them healthy for many more seasons and many generations to come.”
It must be said that not all regions are made the same. Some are better suited to organics than others. Climate plays a huge part in the production of any wine, but even more so with organic wines. As demonstrated by our Top 20, McLaren Vale has, perhaps, the most favourable conditions for chemical-free winegrowing in Australia. “McLaren Vale is well suited to organic viticulture,” says Battle of Bosworth winegrower, Joch Bosworth. “The climate is pretty similar to the Mediterranean, with good rainfall in winter and a generally dry growing season with low disease pressures.”
By contrast, the Hunter is one of hardest regions anywhere in the world to grow wine. But, as Maurice O’Shea proved incredibly well, it can be done. These days, there are four certified producers making wine without a synthetic safety net in the Hunter Valley, and two of them feature in our Top 20. “We have long, hot, and sometimes very wet summers,” says Peter Windrim from Krinklewood. “During the growing season our vineyards are ripe for disease, but agriculture is never easy, so we just see it as another one of life’s little challenges. We’ve been certified for ten years now, so there’s no way we’ll change how we do things.”
Converting to organics
It’s much easier to convert your wine drinking habits over to organics than it is to convert your wine growing habits. A vineyard needs to have been farmed without the use of any synthetic chemicals for a period of three years before it can be legally recognised as being organic. For a wine producer to make any organic claims in the marketplace, including labelling their wines ‘organic’, ‘biological’, ‘ecological’, or any other word to that effect, they must be certified by one of Australia’s many organic certifying organisations, such as Australian Certified Organic (ACO). Those winegrowers who complete the conversion process must stop using artificial chemicals on their vineyard(s) if they wish to keep their certification ongoing.
“We get audited at least once a year to make sure we’re complying with the standards of organic certification,” explains Jason O’Dea from Windowrie wines, in Cowra. “An inspector will arrive on the property and conduct soil tests and ask to see our paperwork, including spray diaries and receipts for various purchases related to the vineyard.”
Not all wine producers who practice organic grape growing are certified, for one reason or another. For instance, Australian wine icon Henschke are known to practice organic viticulture in many of their vineyards, including the renowned Hill of Grace vineyard, but have decided not to get certified. Jasper Hill, from Heathcote, Victoria, is another of Australia’s renowned winegrowers who also don’t wish to be certified.
“I’m not certified, and I don’t wish to be,” explains Ron Laughton from Jasper Hill. “I think the dirty bastards that are using chemicals on their vineyard should be licensed. Why should I be certified to be clean and do nothing harmful in my vineyard? It’s the wrong way around,” argues Ron.
Tasting is believing
Some say that the way organic wines are grown is better for the environment, some say they’re more sustainable, and some even say that organic wines taste better. That last one is still up for debate. In order to help you decide for yourself, have a read of our list of Top 20 organic wines from Australia, each tasted and selected by our expert panel, then grab a few bottles, taste them and decide for yourself.
Top 20 Organic Wines
Giant Steps Known Pleasures Shiraz 2014
Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Vineyard Chardonnay 2013
Battle of Bosworth Sauvignon Blanc 2015
Angove Wild Olive Organic Shiraz 2014
Paxton MV Shiraz 2014
Em’s Table Riesling 2014
Kalleske Wines Rosina Rosé 2016
Pure Vision Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
Gemtree Vineyards Luna Temprana Joven style Tempranillo 2015
Cape Jaffa La Lune Field Blend 2014
Yalumba Organics Shiraz 2015
Krinklewood Biodynamic Vineyard Semillon 2015
919 Tempranillo 2013
Spring Seed Wine Scarlet Runner Shiraz 2014
Tamburlaine Block 14 Single Vineyard Malbec 2015
The Natural Wine Co. Sauvignon Blanc 2015
Rosnay Shiraz 2009
J & J Wines Rivers Lane Shiraz 2013
Ascella Wines Reserve Chardonnay 2014
Red Deer Station Shiraz 2014