Ecocert & the 2012 Vintage
What are the main ingredients in an Organic Fine Wine?
Potassium bicarbonate, to deacidify a wine?
Egg white albumin?
We happen to believe that terroir is the most important ingredient here, an ingredient that our winemakers do everything to protect and foster, even if Ecocert’s new regulations happen to neglect it.
In February 2012, the European Commission voted to change the regulations for wineries seeking Ecocert certification, which went into effect on August 1, 2012, and therefore applies to the soon-to-arrive 2012 vintage wines. On our most recent trip to Provence and Rhone, a number of our producers spoke about these changes and how they welcomed the call for compliance in the winery as opposed to just the vineyard, because any wines made after August 1, 2012 will simply be labeled “Organic Wine” that is “Certified by Ecocert”, a classification that did not exist before. Any wine made prior to this date can still have a label that reads: “Wine made from organic grapes”, but the new regulations now apply to one’s cellar practices and not just to what’s done in the vineyard. (Read here for the EU’s Commission Implementing Regulation No 203/2012.)
“As of 2012 grape harvest, all wines made with organic grapes must be in compliance with the new rules. It will no longer be possible to produce wines labeled as “wines from organic grapes” (when only grapes were certified but not the actual wine-making operations.)”
During our visit, Patrick Fabre at Domaine de l’Harmas in Chateauneuf-du-Pape spoke of how the new regulations now limit a wine’s SO2 levels, which can still be added, and that he’d soon be taking his wine to Ecocert to have the levels measured. Cecile Dusserre of Domaine de Montvac, whose vineyards/winery are Ecocert certified as of 2013, said, “They drastically reduced the levels of SO2,” that are allowed, but she remains unaffected because her levels already fall far below the limits.
For those who are undergoing certification, Ecocert now allows one to label the wine(s) as “wine undergoing conversion to organic farming”. And while none of our Ecocert producers alter their wines, there are a number of treatments that are allowed, which draws a deep line in the soil between wines that are Ecocert certified and “natural wines”. Allowing for the addition of Latic acid and L(+) tartaric acid to acidify one’s wines, Ecocert also accepts the addition of a few substances such as: Calcium carbonate, Neutral potassium tartrate and Potassium bicarbonate, to deacidify a wine. Ecocert certified wineries can also add tannins, and any added yeast, or items used for clarification such as egg white albumin, edible gelatin, plant proteins and tannins, should be “derived from organic raw material when available”, and the use of copper sulfate will be allowed until 7/31/2015.
And while the USDA writes on their blog that they also do not require that “yeast and any other agricultural ingredients” are organic, but simply “produced without excluded methods (like genetic engineering)”, it’s interesting to note that while the addition of sulfites is not allowed, there is a laundry list of non-organic items that are allowed in certified organic foods (and wines).
Alternatively, makers of “natural wines” are without a governing body and so free to define the term as they please, but it’s generally understood that these wines are not altered in the cellar, are without added sulfites and are made with indigenous yeast.
The new regulations also determine what can and cannot be practiced in the cellar. An Ecocert winemaker cannot “obtain partial concentration through cooling”; eliminate “sulphur dioxide by physical processes”; ensure tartaric stabilization with electrodialysis treatment; partially dealcoholize a wine; or ensure tartaric stabilization by treating the wine with cation exchangers. And though this introduction of the new “Organic Wine” classification is certainly an improvement over using organic grapes with zero regulations in the cellar, perhaps these seemingly unnatural ingredients are allowed so that organic wines can be made without the risk of relying solely on terroir for financial stability or gain, but then isn’t the notion of terroir a key ingredient in fine wine?