A beautiful new book extols the virtues of organic, biodynamic and natural wine and suggests examples to taste. For publication in week starting 9 April 2018.
The sub-title of Jane Anson’s new book, Wine Revolution, explains succinctly what it is about: “The world’s best organic, biodynamic and natural wines”. This lushly presented book is a delight and should be on the bookshelves of anyone who appreciates beauty and wine.
The writing is authoritative, yet with a light touch, and the images are superb. It is an excellent guide to the best of the best. The pen portraits of winemakers are a highlight, and the section on orange wine is especially helpful.
Jane Anson is an accomplished wine writer. She is Decanter’s Bordeaux correspondent and has lived in the region since 2003. Anson writes columns for newspapers and magazines and is the author of Bordeaux Legends: The 1855 First Growth Wines. She was also the Bordeaux and Southwest France author of The Wine Opus and 1000 Great Wines That Won’t Cost a Fortune.
In an article published on The Wine Society’s web site Anson explained that organic, biodynamic and natural wines were part of the same movement that has seen the rise of farm-to-table restaurants and farmers’ markets that helped to revolutionise food culture around the world over the past decade.
“It was this idea that organic, biodynamic and natural wines can be the space where foodies and wine lovers meet that really inspired me to write Wine Revolution.”
Anson said she wanted to get across the idea that these kinds of wines should no longer be viewed as specialist or eccentric.“Even the most prestigious of them are about the pure pleasure of taste, and the pleasure of discovering the history and personality of a vineyard through the bottles that it makes.
“I wanted to ensure that I was writing about the wines themselves, and the people who make them, rather than focusing too much on the technical details of the farming methods. Where possible I wanted to highlight local grape varieties that protected the historic identity of a region – and that often matched perfectly with local foods.”
About 9 percent of the 3.3 million hectares of vineyards in the European Union were cultivated organically as of late 2016 (the most recent available data), and the trend is rising. The main organisations driving this trend are Demeter, Haut les Vins, VinNatur, Ecovin and respekt-BIODYN.
Michael Goëss-Enzenberg, chairman of respekt-BIODYN, said all of these organisations wanted the same thing: to keep vineyards healthy for their descendants, and at the same time to produce excellent and individual wines.
They were also operating in line with the targets of the Paris Agreement on climate change, he said, because the greater the vineyard biodiversity and the larger their area, the better they acted to capture carbon dioxide. Many members met in Dusseldorf a few days before ProWein last month. A listing of the wineries that attended can be found at bio-biodyn.sommelier-consult.de.
Demeter is the oldest organic farming association in Germany. Members have been cultivating their fields biodynamically since 1924. This is regarded as the most sustainable form of land management, and is based on Rudolf Steiner’s ideas (see an earlier column for more information about Steiner and wine). Their regulations go far beyond the requirements of EU ecological regulations.
Demeter is represented on all continents. As of this month about 800 wineries were certified or in the process of conversion around the world, for a total of about 10,000 hectares of vineyards. Of these about 8,500 hectares are in the European Union. Germany has 54 Demeter wineries or estates with 218 hectares of vines, Austria 60 (410), Switzerland 21 (215), France 222 (4,706) and Italy 39 (1,303).
Ecovin was founded in 1985 and is the largest German association of wineries operating ecologically. Its members identify with biodiversity, respect for nature and aesthetics. As of January this year its 233 members cultivated about 2,356 hectares of vineyards, accounting for a quarter of all German organic vineyards. Ecovin works closely with Demeter of Germany.
Haut les Vins started as a group of artisan French growers who shared a passion for terroir-driven wines, though they had different views, experiences and philosophies. The group currently consists of 65 members, six of them not yet certified, who cultivate 780 hectares of vineyards in five countries. The members share the idea that integrity must be valued, but should never lead to fundamentalism. Terroir conservation and expression are and will always remain the ideal, their web site says.
Founded in 2007, respekt-BIODYN is a biodynamic association that aims to produce outstanding wines with the greatest possible individuality. At present it has 22 members from Austria, Germany, Italy and Hungary and they cultivate about 600 hectares of vineyard area. Their approach involves a biodynamic circular economy according to the ideas of Rudolf Steiner. The association is based in Austria. They go far beyond EU organic regulations.
VinNatur was established in 2006 to counteract what president Angiolino Maule believes is the poisoning of the environment through excessive use of chemicals. The association advocates for making natural wine, the name given to a product “derived from a healthy agriculture which rejects the use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers,” Maule said.
The organisation currently has almost 200 members. The headquarters are in Italy, with members in France, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia. All producers seeking to join VinNatur agree to have their wines analysed to check for as many as 88 residual pesticides. The aim of the tests is to ensure authenticity of wines and coherence with VinNatur’s principles.
Buy this beautiful book. It is a delight. As Anson notes, once people start looking they will find “hundreds of brilliant winemakers who are committed to making wines that speak of a particular place and a particular story, underlined by returning to traditional methods of farming that help biodiversity and sustainability”.
Footnote: China has put a 15 per cent tariff on American wine, in retaliation for the US’s imposing tariffs on Chinese steel. It’s not such a big deal. America only exports about 12.5 per cent of its wine. Last year only 3.7 per cent of those exports went to China, which means about 0.4 per cent of total production – or one in every 250 bottles – will attract the new tax. But consumers in China might feel the pinch, depending on the final price of the wine.