There are a lot of scare stories in the world of food and drink. You don’t want gluten, cholesterol, free radicals, salt or sugar but you need to have Omega 3, antioxidants and whatever else is currently in vogue. The same sorts of things crop up in wine. Ideas like; organic, biodynamic, fair-trade and sulphite-free.
You can get organic wine but it’s rare. The reason for this is that grapes are delicate souls easily affected by mould, insects and a host of other pests. They are also the livelihood of the wine-maker. So if vile damp rainy weather arrives in the weeks before harvest the wine-maker has a choice – spray to prevent mildew or risk losing the harvest for the year.
The financial imperative to spray is strong.
In practice this means wines tend to be organic in some years but not in others. Perhaps rightly the Soil Association wants the whole farm to be organic, all of the time. This means that most wine growers at some point give up getting the certificate even if they do generally work organically.
The crazier end of the French wine world has taken organic a step further with biodynamic wine. Like organic this eschews pesticides and fertilizers other than manure but is even more extreme in that vineyard work is timed by the phases of the moon. Whether or not it makes your wine taste better isn’t clear.
The idea of Fairtrade food is rightly popular. Who could argue against paying the poorest farmers in the world a fair price for their efforts? The idea is tricky with wine though as the vast majority of wine is grown by people who are anything but poor. South Africa is an exception but for most places the idea just doesn’t stack.
Lastly, sulphite-free wine. If you look closely at your next bottle you are likely to see the words “contains sulphites” on it. “Oh no” you think “something else I need to worry about”. Well don’t. Sulphites are simply compounds that contain the element sulphur. This occurs naturally in grapes and wine-makers use sulphur dioxide as a simple and safe
way to clean their equipment. Without it you’d have a bottle of vinegar. A few people seem to have a reaction to them but unless you are one of those, relax.
So where does that all leave you? Enjoying your wine I hope, without getting too hung up on all the terms.