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Organic wines gaining popularity worldwide

March 24, 2010

Organic wines gaining popularity worldwide

By Marge C. Enriquez
Philippine Daily Inquirer

First Posted 01:00:00 11/12/2009

Chemical-less farming, diminished sulfite, no head-throbbing hangover
DRIVEN BY CONSUMER DEmand for more healthy consumption and an unspoiled environment, farmers and wine growers in the West have been turning to organic or alternative farming, that is, farming without chemical pesticides or fertilizers, as in the days before World War II.

There’s reason wine-grape growers are attracted to organic farming. With wine already under attack from adversaries of alcoholic beverages, growers have no wish to rile still another group, the foes of chemicals in farming.

However, organic wines are not just for fired-up eco activists. Today, even the most snobbish oenophiles match their discriminating taste buds with their environmental beliefs. The New York Times reported that organic wines have been a trend in the past two years. It’s not just because these wines supposedly prevent the throbbing head syndrome after a night of indulgence.

“It’s more about quality than being organic,” says Jose Luis Gomez, managing director of Bodegas Aruspide whose two Spanish organic wines have been met with acclaim.

Recently, Ardales Blanco Airen was ranked No. 8 on a list of 3,000 white wines in the world and won the silver medal in the California Wine Challenge.

Wine critic Robert Parker, who used to snub organic wines, graded the Ardales Red Tempranillo 86 points—pretty high considering the world’s best wines rate 83 to 87 points. The Ardales Red won the bronze medal in the California Green Challenge.

Gomez quotes international wine certifiers as saying that wine is organic when the viticulture did not utilize chemical fertilizers, additives and pesticides in the past 20 years. (One reason is that it takes years for lands to flush out chemical residues.) By this definition, a wine containing sulfite, a preservative, could also be labeled “organic” since the grapes were organically grown.

In organic wines, sulfite is a major issue as it is believed to cause the nasty hangovers, allergic reactions and headaches. Gomez points out that their organic wines eschew sulfites.

High alcohol content

Meanwhile, other wine makers have diminished sulfite to undetectable amounts since they believe that sulfite is necessary in stabilizing the wine through its transportation and storage. The reduction of sulfites and the significant amounts of antioxidants have spurred the popularity of organic wines. Yet, alcohol content is high.

“Fifteen percent,” notes Gomez. “The organic grapes come from very healthy but old vines that don’t need fertilizers and pesticides. The vines are so mature that grapes are very small. With the low quantity of water, the percentage of sugar is bigger and boosts the alcohol volume. Alcohol means aging. The more alcohol, the better the wine ages. It’s the best preservative.”

This is also why Bodega Aruspides’ organic wines are named after Ardales, the Greek god of the land. The winery is in La Mancha, Valdepeñas (literally, “valley of the stones”). The terrain is stony—worst for plants. “They must be strong to survive. The grapes are small and thrive on low quantity of water, but they are high in sugar,” explains Gomez.

“The main key for Ardales is the caliber.” says Gomez, citing that these organic wines are lauded for their complex tastes. “The Ardales Vino Airen comes from the Airen grape which is grown only in Spain. We make two fermentations—a carbonic and traditional fermentation. With these two we get the most of the fruit in the Airen grape. It’s tropical—a nice balance between acidity and fruit. It has a nice gentle and feminine finish. There’s no astringent or acidic taste,” says Gomez.

“It tastes like vanilla—smooth and fruity, combined with black berry and plum. With four months in the oak barrel, it exudes spiciness, and some chocolate taste with a hint of tobacco.”

Aside from organic farming practices and the miniscule amounts of sulfite (although it’s inevitable that the wine naturally creates its own spoilage retardant), what else would make a wine organic?

Gomez explains it’s the era of the ethical consumer who insists that even the packaging must be recyclable. “If you don’t have an attractive presentation, people won’t try it for the first time.”

Although the concept of organic wine is still evolving, Gomez says the driving force for its popularity is the changing lifestyles. “It’s like converting people to diesel cars. In the past, people laughed it off as a girl’s car. In Europe today, 90 percent of the cars have diesel engines. People are more concerned about the environment, their health and their pocket.”

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