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There are so many reasons to appreciate organic wines. They’re good for the planet, reducing synthetic chemicals in the ecosystem; good for the vineyard, encouraging vines to dig deep and grow resilient; and good for wine lovers, filling our glasses with natural expressions of terroir. Perhaps most convincingly of all, organic winemaking is behind some of the best wines in the world, past and present. Sure, organic isn’t always the path of least resistance, but to paraphrase a wise amphibian: it’s not easy being green, but it’s worth it.
Here are a few ways of going green.
Different countries have their own standards for organic certification and labelling, but essentially, organic winemaking is about avoiding synthetic chemicals in the vineyard and winery. (To meet the Canadian Organic Standards and wear the Canada Organic logo, a wine must be made from at least 95% organic product and have been certified by a body accredited by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.) Here are a few ways of going green.
Healthy soil makes for good wines. Rather than rely on synthetic chemical fertilizers and weed killers, which can decimate microbial life in the soil, organic-wine growers focus on keeping the soil healthy — by planting cover crops among the vines, for instance — so it doesn’t need as many additives, while supplementing those efforts with naturally derived fertilizers.
In order to thrive, grape vines must overcome threats of pests and weather. Instead of, say, overloading the vines with synthetic fungicides to prevent mildew, organic-wine growers can go the extra mile with leaf thinning to encourage airflow; some growers even allow sheep or other critters into the vineyard to thin the leaves for them. Similarly, having ducks roam the vine rows munching insects is a way to naturally control pests without resorting to synthetic pesticides.
Winemaking isn’t easy, and there’s always the temptation to inundate a wine with preservatives, particularly sulfites, to fortify it against spoilage. While some sulfites are inevitable in wine (as a natural part of the winemaking process), excessive amounts can bring unpleasant flavours and even trigger allergies. Winemakers typically limit the amount of sulfites they add to their organic wines. Some organic certification programs, notably in the United States, forbid adding any at all.
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