Everything you need to know about Australian organic wine
Like many wine lovers, you may have noticed an increase in the number of producers selling organic, natural, biodynamic, or vegan-friendly wines. Learn more with this simple guide to organic wine in Australia!
At its simplest, organic wine is wine that has been produced from organically-grown grapes, free from herbicides, pesticides and other chemical agents. Not only does this result in what some consider to be a more eco-friendly wine, it’s also closer to the ‘natural’ flavour and character of the grape variety used in the wine.
Above: Mark Davidson of Tamburlaine Organic Wines discusses the principles of their organic success.
“At its heart, organic viticulture is about improving the health of soils naturally,” says Mark Davidson, Managing Director and Chief Winemaker of Tamburlaine Organic Wines, one of the pre-eminent organic wine producers in Australia. “It’s about restoring organic matter, which is the home for moisture and microbiology in soils – that’s what makes soils and vines healthy.”
While once considered something of an ‘acquired taste’, organic wines like those from Tamburlaine regularly feature prominently at award shows around the country. “The wines we are making are better than ever,” says Mark. “And they’re of consistent quality – that’s really important.”
HOW DO YOU MAKE ORGANIC WINE?
Instead of man-made pest control measures, organic producers like Tamburlaine control for weeds and bugs with repellents derived from natural ingredients, as well as through pest control measures like so-called ‘cover crops’, which attract benign bugs known to repel those that threaten vines. Growers will also often use livestock such as sheep to graze between the vine rows and reduce weeds.
At Angove Family Winemakers, for instance, in South Australia’s McLaren Vale, ducks have played a vital role in the maintenance of their vineyards. “Snails used to crawl up into the vine canopy and munch away on the young green shoots of the developing leaves and grapes,” says Richard Angove, fifth-generation winemaker. “The ducks keep the snail population under control without the need to use pesticide on the vines.”
Above: Indian runner ducks help keep the snail population under control in organic fashion at Angove Family Winemakers.
The ultimate intention is for the vineyard to become a self-regulating eco-system, and to eliminate the use of artificial agents altogether in wine production. This ‘minimal intervention’ approach begins among the vines, and is carried into the winemaking process itself, where greater restraint is used with preservatives like sulphites to achieve a wine that’s as close to what nature intended as possible.
“Growing and making organic wines means no artificial herbicides, pesticides, chemicals or fertilisers are used in either the vineyard or the winery,” says Richard. “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.”
Matthew Barry, second-generation owner and winemaker at Mount Avoca in Victoria’s Pyrenees region, has found himself in a similar frame of mind. Mount Avoca’s organic certification, he says, was a by-product of his focus on growing the best quality fruit.
“Our holy grail was always totally amazing wines with a purity of flavour and no chemical residues at all,” Matthew remarks. “The certification was a happy side-effect.”
Above: Second-generation Mount Avoca winemaker checks in on the grapes of his organic-certified Pyrenees vineyard.
HOW CAN YOU TELL IF A WINE IS 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 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.”
Besides the Australian Certified Organic (ACO) program, the National Association of Sustainable Agriculture (NASAA) also offers organic accreditation. Seeing either logo on the bottle is your assurance that the wine you’re thinking of drinking has passed the requirements for organic classification.
Above: McLaren Vale has proven to be one of the most suitable wine regions for the production of organic wines.
CHARACTERISTICS OF ORGANIC WINE
Essentially, organic wine is:
- Naturally-grown with sustainable farming methods
- Free from synthetic/man-made pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers
- 100% GM-free
- Very few to no added preservatives
- Certified by independent bodies like ACO
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ORGANIC AND NATURAL / BIODYNAMIC / VEGAN WINE
Beyond what has been defined above as organic winemaking, producers may also label their wines as ‘natural’, biodynamic or vegan-friendly wine.
Natural wines are closest to the organic ideal, but there is no commonly agreed-upon definition except to say that natural wine producers strive to avoid any kind of fining, filtering, or mechanisation of any kind, and use only wild yeasts – effectively, zero intervention across the vines, and in the winery. While this often leads to what would be considered by many as ‘wine faults’, natural wines are finding plenty of willing buyers.
Above: Organic or low-intervention winemaking continues to increase in popularity.
Biodynamic wines on the other hand build upon organic principles by taking inspiration from the work of late 19th-century spiritual thinker Rudolf Steiner. Like organic wines, growers and winemakers refrain from pesticides and chemical fertilisers, and consider the vineyard as an integrated and holistic system. Additionally though, growers will also use biodynamic soil ‘supplements’ and astrologically-informed planting, pruning and harvesting schedules.
Finally, vegan wines forgo the use of any animal products like isinglass (fish protein), gelatin (animal protein), catein (a milk-derived protein), and egg whites (albumin) as fining products to clear up the ‘haze’ created by the proteins, tannins and tartrate during the winemaking process. Instead, winemakers will use alternative agents like activated charcoal – or simply leave their wines to ‘self-fine’ or stabilise as best as able.
WHERE TO BUY ORGANIC WINE
Such has been the success of organic wines in Australia that they’re now more widely available than ever. Wine Selectors has a fantastic range of organic wines from celebrated producers like Angove, Krinklewood, Tamburlaine, Spring Seed Wine Company and many more – if you’re looking to explore the best in organic Australian wines, make sure to explore our range.