Vive la difference: Organic wine in France


Although eating organic has caught on in France, drinking organic has been slow to follow. A growing number of wine-producers are re-discovering the joys of "le vins bio."

In the soil
For years wine producers thought that in order to reap a good grape harvest they needed chemical weed killers and fertilizers. It was a time saving process, the soil needed less work and growers could expect a higher yield. However, it came with a price. Using these methods destroyed the microbes and bacteria in the soil, affecting the taste colour and aroma of the wine.

Healthy Soil
Luckily a growing number of French wine producers are re-discovering the importance of healthy soil and are using grapes grown from organic soil.

These organic growers do not use fertilizers fungicides or herbicides but encourage the build up of stable humus through composting. Weeds are allowed to grow, cut back, rot, and are then ploughed back into the earth. The soil is kept active using organic fertilizer and a controlled minimum of nutrients such as copper. At least three years are required to prepare the soil when changing from traditional to bio production.

In order to prevent diseases such as mildew, the vines are often be stripped to control the air circulation. To guard against harmful worms which attack the grapes a natural bacterium is added.

Some organic wine growers prefer to handpick the grapes so as not to damage the fruit and to make sure that only the ripest are chosen. The added benefit of this organic way of producing wine is creating a sustainable economy by providing regular employment in a healthy environment.

Sulphites are a natural by-product resulting from the fermentation process when wine is being made. It's not toxic and is a natural preservative. Many wine producers add in more sulphites in the form of sulphur dioxide, which often causes allergic reactions. Organic producers add half the amount present in traditional wine, thereby reducing reactions and the aftermath.

No certification
Although there are no certified regulations, an organic wine vineyard is inspected yearly by the one of accreditation bodies and may also have any amount of random checks. Processing in the cellar is reduced to a minimum, to regain time lost working the soil.

National logo
Organic wine produced in France will have the National Logo for organic products--- the AB logo agriculture biologique which is owned by the State. Additional information clearly visible on the label will state "Vin issue de raisins Biologique" but will never state organic wine. The name of the accreditation body is also stated. The mark is a guarantee that the producer is preserving the quality of the soil and encouraging biodiversity.

Gradual increase
Organic viticulture has increased though by 40 percent since 2001 especially in the south where the threat of diseases such as rot and mildew is less because of the warm dry climate. Wine producers are recognizing the increased quality of the wine and even in hostile areas like the Champagne region there are more demands for conversion.

As well as respecting the environment, the organic wine producer tends to his wine making with so much care that one can taste the love in the first sip. Isn't it wonderful to wine and dine knowing that hangovers are a thing of the past?

Alice Alech is a freelance writer based in France, who has been researching organic wine.