Udo Hirsch, Gelveri-Manufactur
Throw a stone
in a pond and see the ripples
This is the image Isabell Legeron MW uses in her book “Natural Wine” to describe the difference between natural and conventionally produced wine and what comes in between.
A short summary of the current situation of viticulture (mainly EU)
In the past, viticulture used to be mixed cultivation with a great deal of biodiversity. A large part of this wineries resulted in conventional viticulture, i.e. monocultures without any space for other plants. Today, priority is given to technology and profitability. The EU regulations of the market in wine, the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV) and several other organizations are responsible for the policies.
There are, of course, different methods, but in conventional viticulture heavy machines are generally used, in combination with artificial fertilizer against grasses and herbs, and pesticides against insects. Vine diseases and parasites are mainly fought by regular preventive spraying with pesticides. Synthetic fungicides are employed in particular to protect the delicate vines against fungal infestation.
Although the winegrowing part covers only about 3.5% of the agricultural area in Europe, 15% of the total amount of pesticides is applied here. Herbicides such as Glyphosat Roundup by Monsanto/Bayer as well as other chemical-synthetic ones are extensively used. Any negative effects on the ecosystem in the vineyards are not taken into account.
More than fifty additives and authorized work practices are allowed for the production of conventional wine in Europe, and more than seventy in the US.
For the complete list of authorized oenological treatments and techniques see EU 606/2009.
We have no idea of what we are drinking because the label on the wine bottles does not contain any information of the actual content
In the US it is legal to use a “Spinning Cone Column” for improving wines. It is a centrifugal column that disassembles the wine into its individual components. As needed and desired, individual parts can then be enriched, changed or completely reassembled. The centrifugal column has not yet been admitted in Europe.
However, even without this machinery, a considerable amount of conventionally produced wines has turned into an industrially fabricated mass product, lacking original features, origin or character. According to law, these wines are sensorily marketable (technical jargon). This rather interesting official term explicitly refers to texture, smell and taste of the wine, not to its quality though.
Ecological viticulture places great importance on environmental protection, which is one of many requirements for a wine to be called Eco-Wine and labelled with the EU organic logo. Ecological viticulture is defined by the EU Organic Wine Regulation and by certain other organizations, too.
In ecological cultivation the vineyard is treated as a holistic ecosystem where plant protection and biodiversity are of major importance. Only organic products may be used for plant protection. Natural means for strengthening the vines and greening the vine rows are essential for healthy grapes. Fertilization should be organic whereas chemical pesticides and herbicides are not allowed.
All legitimate means and work methods concerning ecological viticulture, i.e. vineyard and wine cellar, are listed in the Regulation for Organic Viticulture EU-606/2012. ECOVIN, Bioland, Naturland, Demeter and other organizations responsible for inspecting and certification employ even stricter criteria which have to be met by their members.
Biodynamic viticulture goes even a few steps further than ecological viticulture. It is the “strictest” way of controlled and certified ecological winegrowing. Biodynamically produced wines are marked with the seal of the Demeter association that defines the requirements on biodynamic agri- and viticulture.
Besides the holistic view of the vineyard as an ecosystem, biodynamic viticulture comprises a spiritual worldview. Strengthening of the vines and their natural surroundings is paramount. Thus, homemade “homeopathic” remedies such as herbal infusions and horn silica are applied in addition to biological plant fortifiers.
Only organic preservatives are allowed. Organic fertilizers and greening of vine rows are obligatory essentials. Biodiversity in the vineyard and the use of beneficial organisms are of great importance. The vineyard should possibly be worked without machinery. Biodynamic certification, which is carried out by the Demeter association, excludes the majority of usually permitted additives. These particularly strict requirements comprise a minimum of approved treatment agents.
“Vin méthode nature” (2020) ought to be seen as the first private initiative towards an official definition of “Natural Wine”. It is intended to try this definition and the approved term out, within a three-year trial program. Austria and Italy are going to join the test phase.
The method is based on the regulations for ecological viticulture. It implies the following further restrictions:
Use of local grapes only
Grape harvesting by hand
No temperature monitoring
No reverse osmosis
No more than 30mg/l sulfite in bottling
It is a pity that the definition “Vin méthode nature” still does not really indicate what natural wine is. Yet it is a stopover on the way to reach our set goal.
Even this definition is not completely transparent for the consumer. The regulations for ecological viticulture still include quite a few possibilities to modify the wine with external products. Instead of listing further restrictions, the process of cultivation and vinification should be outlined in relation to the guidelines of ecological winegrowing, so that the consumer will know what components the wine is eventually made up of.
In my opinion the term Natural Wine is a definition in itself, given by its two components NATURE and WINE… That is how most customers see it, anyway.
An official definition of Orange Wine does not exist. It is not needed either, because Orange Wine is just white wine produced in the same way as red wine. The wine can extract tannins and colorants because of maceration and extended contact on the mash, which may both influence the taste of the wine.
Since no extras are needed to make Orange Wine, it may have been produced either conventionally, ecologically or bio-dynamically. If the wine, however, has been certified by an accredited organization, the bottle will at least show a correspondent logo and reference to organic or bio-dynamic winegrowing.
Looking into the Future
The Young Wild Ones (winemakers)
This is what quite a few young winemakers are called. The number of young winemakers who want to assign their local wines a new image by making origin and tradition “tastable” is steadily growing.
The Young Wild Ones do not compete but co-operate. Their asset is rather up-to-date mutual knowledge about climate, soil and vines than their fathers’ industrial plants. Their products are often called natural high-quality wines which can well withstand global comparison.
The Young Wild Ones (chemists)
Since 2015, three company founders have been analyzing various wines in their laboratory Ava in California, by making digital copies. With these they then created a completely new product. Since the foundation of Ava Winery synthetic wines have become better and better. The founders of Ava comment that someone who does not know that their products are fabricated in a laboratory, would never get the idea that these wines are not “normal” wines. They taste like wine, have the texture of wine, and they are pure products, not having been treated with any pesticides. To be honest, isn’t the greater part of wines on today’s market somehow engineered, anyway. Ava Winery produce their synthetic wines with State Approval. Two more countries are already known to be permitted to produce artificial wines and market them as wine.
Taste and Quality?
In 1978 the wine critic Robert Parker started a point-judging-system for wines. His judgement, however, is only based on the taste (color,smell,taste) of the wine, an overall assessment of the relevant winery is not carried out.
Since each wine taster has a specific perception how a good wine should taste, the tasting results of individual tasters are hardly ever comparable. So we are still uncertain what exactly a good wine is. It is generally said that a large quantity of wine tastings leads to an effective general impression of the quality of wines. But is that really the case? We remember that only a few years ago the highest ratings went to wines that had been stored in fresh oak barrels or had been macerated with lots of oak chips. Is it really possible these days to confirm the quality of wine through assessment of color, smell and taste, let alone when there are more than twenty different and widely competitive assessment systems? What is for sure is the fact that number-related wine rating is an easily comprehensible marketing tool. Wines with a rating of 90 points are easily sold, whereas those at 95 points are hardly affordable, which shall consequently apply to the taste-orientated synthetic laboratory wines from the Californian Ava Winery.
In the EU, cherry wines, apple wines, blackberry wines and other fruit wines are produced and marketed as foodstuffs. The label on the bottle has to indicate every ingredient. Grape wine, however, does not count as ordinary but, according to law, as luxury food. This implies that listing of additives on the label is not required. What may be the reason for this regulation? Is the wine lobby possibly afraid that the consumer can find out what is in the bottle? Or is it just because all those additives, which are permitted and applied with conventional wine, do not fit onto a wine label?
When Robert Parker started his point-judging-system it was still possible to connect taste to quality. Today, after forty years of intensive industrialization as well as rapid development and use of synthetic “tools” in viticulture, this connection unfortunately does no longer exist with many wines.
No matter what today’s drinker of wine is tasting, the taste may well originate from natural cultivation and vinification, from wine containing a lot of additives, or even from laboratory produced wine.
That is why the question of the quality of a wine urgently needs an acceptable answer. High scores in the point-judging-system have not been satisfactory for quite a while.
The guidelines for certified ecological and eco-dynamic winegrowing provide clear quality levels and guarantees. But how does this effect all those small and medium-sized producers who do not have their wines certified? Quite a few are working close to nature, following the guidelines and standards of certified methods. Then there are the pioneers whose uncertified winegrowing aims at the final stage of natural wine (meaning “nothing added, nothing taken away”). How could this rather large number of winemakers document the quality of their wines?
The logo presented here can help the producer to point out the quality of his wines ang give necessary information to the consumer, which is actually beyond official control and guarantee.
There are, however, fine examples that show how even uncontrolled productions keep what they have promised. In the meantime, members of associations and non-governmental organizations have set their own standards and jointly market their high quality wines.
Throw a stone in a pond and see the ripples …..
In her book “Natural Wine” Isabell Legeron uses this simile when she describes the difference between natural wine and conventional wine and explains what comes in between the two.
This is a graph of the pond that can be used as a private quality logo (with “Gelveri” as an example).
Explanation of the logo
Outside the ripples there is the large area of conventional wines. It slightly overlaps with the end ripples of the pond water, signifying natural wine. The area for certified organic wines basically covers the middle part of the rippled field. The section still closer to the center stands for certified biodynamic winegrowing. Both areas consist of a lighter and a darker field. The darker one represents the legally defined basics. The lighter parts demonstrate additional guidelines of the relevant organizations for inspection and certification. Natural wine (without adding, without taking away) is marked at the starting point of the ripples i.e. in the very center. A small red bar may individually be inserted in the graph in order to place one’s own position. The officially inspected and certified winegrowing areas count as reference ranges. Although this graph is not an absolutely exact representation, it will certainly help customers to classify the quality of their desired wines.
Use points for taste
Use the pond logo for quality