What distinguishes organic from non-organic viticulture? In this age where the focus is on green, environmental protection and specialised stores, it’s no surprise that the demand for organic production is much greater than ever before.
In this article, we will try to understand what has led to this increased demand by taking a closer look at the wines produced by organic viticulture and the steps taken all the way from the treatment of the grapes in the vineyard to the grape harvest itself. In addition to this, we’ll look at the differences between organic and non-organic cultivation. So, let’s get started!
The organic sector represents an ever-increasing market segment. In a recent survey by Accredia, Unioncamere and Infocamere, the number of organic farming companies increased by 4,500 in 2018 alone. That means that there are 62,000 Italian producers dedicated to organic farming! This trend is particularly strong in the Emilia Romagna which is among the top five Italian regions with the highest number of certified organic farms.
It comes as no coincidence that, according to data from the Agricoltura della Regione department, Emilia Romagna increased the size of areas cultivated by organic farming by 70% between 2014 and 2018 to make a total of 150,000 hectares.
According to the Wine Monitor-Nomisma analysis on Fibl data that developed during Vinitaly 2018 and presented at a Round Table organised by FederBio called ‘The European Organic Wine Market: Strategies for Development and Internationalism’, Italy has doubled its cultivated areas in the last five years. This increase has been primarily concentrated in four regions: Piedmont, Marche, Sicily and, as we are already aware, Emilia Romagna.
However, it is best not to confuse organic viticulture with the production of those wines that are regarded as ‘natural’ or ‘biodynamic’, which are also subject to a constant increase in cultural interest and are becoming increasingly more popular in pubs and specialised wine bars. We should remember that organic wine is also regulated at a legal level with many brands being recognised by the European Union whereas, ‘natural’ or ‘biodynamic’ wines are two more flexible concepts.
‘Natural’ wine is, in fact, the one that requires as little human intervention as possible in its production cycle and is the result of a production philosophy that cannot be regulated by law. When we define a wine as ‘natural’, one would often assume that all wines are natural products themselves as they have grapes as their only ingredient.
‘Biodynamic’ wine is a little different due to a respect of the natural cycle which is currently certified by private companies. Its three principals, which were formulated in the ‘20s by Rudolfo Steiner, are as follows: to maintain the soil’s fertility in order to free nutrients, to make plants healthy so that they can fight against disease and to produce the best possible quality of food.
But as we have already mentioned, despite there being many wines that are ‘friends’ with the environment, only the organic ones (and with it, the entire category of organic viticulture) have the privilege of having the European trademark. They bear the well-known logo of a leaf with the EU stars surrounding it on a light green background. The very same logo resides on organic food packaging and must be issued to the company who is producing the wine by an authorised certification body before it can be placed on the bottles.
What does the law say?
On the legislative front, a new EU regulation (848/2018) was approved in 2018. This dealt with the manufacturing and labelling of organic products which, in 2021, will replace the last regulation from 2017. This new regulation requires checks on the farms on an annual basis (in order to verify that they are respecting the appropriate organic standards) and a cost reduction for small producers who can obtain group certifications. It also notes the ‘growing consumer demand for organic products’ and highlights the dual function, both socially and environmentally, of organic farming.
This kind of viticulture is also regulated by the EU (203/2012) which officially sanctioned the birth of organic wine in Europe. This law applies to the finished product and includes all the parameters relating to the processes in the vineyard in addition to those in the cellar.
The restrictions, which are written in the regulation in question, concern the production chain as a whole. This certification involves organic viticulture and the limitation of certain wine-making practices and ‘helper’ substances that are more widely used during the production of ‘conventional’ wines.
In the vineyard, synthetic chemicals cannot be used, including fertilisers, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and pesticides in general. As you can imagine, the use of genetically modified organisms is strictly forbidden so parasitic attacks must be prevented naturally.
However, it is important to highlight that the ban only applies to ‘synthetic’ substances. Naturally occurring chemicals, like copper sulphate, are granted albeit in limited quantities. After all, copper is an almost irreplaceable weapon against peronospora, which is one of the main diseases that affects vines. Its use is subject to a limit which corresponds to 6 kilos per hectare and per year.