HomeWining & DiningOrganic wines — fact or just marketing hype?

Organic wines — fact or just marketing hype?

There are many companies, organisations, manufacturing plants and agricultural companies who are very concerned about the increase in pollution and the part they are playing in degrading the environment in which we live.

Report by Mark Mair

The biggest problem is the amount of people currently living on the planet.

Technological advancements in medical science and the basic standard of living across the globe has increased life spans to the extent that demographic profiles have changed radically and the size of the population over 65 in many countries almost matches that of the 20 to 45-year-olds.

This obviously means more consumption, more pressure on food growing countries, manufacturing plants and obviously much more waste. The earth (we are constantly reminded) is a fragile environment and we should take better care of it, but the “bigger, faster, better cheaper” mantra of modern day manufacturing merely pays a passing acknowledgement to this statement and carries on producing for an expectant and constantly growing marketplace.

Global warming, we are told, is accelerating and weather patterns as we know them are changing across the world. Take for instance the mega storms currently being experienced in North America and on the Indian continent.

Celebrated travel writer Bill Bryson has a theory that these weather patterns are cyclical and as the world is probably millions of years old, we just so happen to be in existence at the beginning of another mega storm and earthquake cycle. Oops.

There is also a lot of hype about how “environmentally aware” huge companies are, but at the end of the day, their profitability remains sacrosanct and so the advent of “carbon trading” came to be.

This nicely massages the egos of the executives of huge companies that pour mega tonnes of effluent into the sea or the atmosphere, comforting them that they have traded their collective pollutant guilt with a less developed country by paying them for taking on their “carbon credits”. Nice bit of business, but it still doesn’t lessen the amounts of effluent pouring into the sea.

Wine Estates worldwide have also bought into the “environmentally aware” concept and have introduced organic methods of production both in the vineyards and in the winery.
Active adherents to the organic culture have done away with synthetic pesticides and have employed (in some cases) flocks of geese to control vineyard pests like snout beetles and other winged insects who like nothing better than to munch on a nice ripe bunch of berries and its protective canopy of leaves.

However, the “Bordeaux mixture” is still used in place of chemicals to treat plants and berries against infestations of mildew and other air-borne diseases of this ilk. Bordeaux mixture is a weak mix of sulphur and water, which is applied to the fruit bunches in the vineyard and has been done for centuries.

Another organic method to indicate if rose beetles are about to descend on your crop with their knives and forks is to plant rose bushes at the end of each row of vines. The beetles will munch on the roses first, giving the vintner enough forward warning to send in the flock of geese or to start picking the beetles off by hand.

All of these methods cost time and money and in some cases reduce yields, hence the “price tag” attached to wines which are organically grown. The question is, is this price tag justified or is it also a fancy bit of marketing hype? Estates like Springfield in Stellenbosch are big on organic methods. The soil profile in the vineyards includes a lot of gravel, similar to the Graves region in Bordeaux.

Their Sauvignon Blanc certainly denotes minerally, flinty flavours that are a direct expression of this particular terrior, but is this wine any better than that of one made commercially, with all the pesticides and modern tillage methods being employed?

I know I’m a bit of a traditionalist, but I’m also known to be what is fondly described by my peers as “a bit tight” (by the way that refers to my wallet, not my physical state after drinking a few glasses of wine!). So until the price of organically produced products shed themselves of the weight of the marketing hype which is often added on to the end price, I’ll be drinking the “bad” stuff I’m afraid!

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