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Leading The Charge: From Sustainable to Organic

October 17, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments

Sustainability is the trend. A global trend, across countries and across industries. We, humans, want to make sure that there will be some inhabitable Earth left for future generations.

When it comes to grape growing and winemaking, sustainability is a major trend, with many winemaking countries and regions adding new sustainable vineyards and wineries at double-digit annual percentage rates.

For New Zealand wineries and vineyards, sustainability is done and over with – New Zealand wineries started sustainability journey in 1995. In 2016, 98% of New Zealand’s vineyard area (about 89,000 acres) was sustainable winegrowing certified, which is based on the data collected from 1,918 vineyards and 254 wineries (the data is based on the 2016 New Zealand winegrowing sustainability report). Sustainability certification is based on a number of key aspects, such as land management, water consumption management, pest and disease management, treatment of the people, business practices, and many more (you can find all the information in the report).

The forward movement doesn’t stop in the New Zealand winemaking industry. Next frontier – organic grape growing and winemaking. Organic grape growing imposes further restrictions on what can and can’t be used to produce healthy grapes, and it takes on average 3 years to convert from sustainable to organic methods, but New Zealand winemakers are used to the challenge.

At the end of September, the New Zealand organic winemaking was celebrated via the Organic Wine Week, consisting of a series of tastings and presentations by New Zealand’s vignerons. I attended one of the events (virtual, of course), where we could learn about the development of organic winemaking in New Zealand. Just to share some numbers, there are currently 45 fully organic certified wineries, plus another 7 which produce wines mostly from organic grapes, offering a total of 102 organic wine labels. There are a bit more than 6,000 acres of organic and biodynamic certified vineyards, including about 1,000 acres in conversion (as we mentioned before, it takes about 3 years to convert vineyard from sustainable to organic). If you are interested in learning more details about New Zealand organic wine production, I would highly recommend checking this dedicated website of Organic Winegrowers New Zealand –  I have to honestly say that when it comes to the well-presented, comprehensive winemaking region information, New Zealand wine associations do by far the best job out there – you need to check this for yourself.

If you ever looked at the labels of organic wines sold in the US, you probably noticed that many bottles say “made with organic grapes”, instead of simply been “organic”. I was curious to understand the significance of such wording, and it was perfectly explained during the seminar. It appears that based on the US organic labeling laws, to be just called “organic wine”, it is not enough to just use the certified organic grapes – the winemaking processes have a number of additional restrictions, particularly the use of sulfites is not allowed. It is very difficult to make good wine without the use of sulfites, thus most of the winemakers prefer to simply use a statement “made with organic grapes” instead of going the full circle and sacrifice the quality of their wines. I was happy to finally learn about this designation, as I tasted lots of “made with organic grapes” wines this year and always was wondering about such a specific wording.

As part of the seminar, I was also happy to receive samples of the New Zealand organic wines, which were packaged in tiny bottles. Definitely an interesting concept – and I understand the logic behind it – however, I’m really curious if such a format can negatively affect the taste of wine – take a look at my notes below particularly for the Chardonnay.

Here are the extended tasting notes for the wines – as a side note, all of these wines are vegan-friendly:

2019 Pyramid Valley Sauvignon Blanc Marlboro (13% ABV)
Straw pale color.
Clean, restrained nose with a touch of freshly cut grass, mineral notes
Restrained palate, crisp, acidic, uncharacteristic for the Sauvignon Blanc wine, more Muscadet-like

2019 Millton Chenin Blanc Te Arai Vineyard Gisborne (12% ABV, Demeter certified biodynamic)
Light golden color
A touch of gunflint and barnyard.
Whitestone fruit, unripe apricot, a hint of honey, medium to full body, granny smith apples over the long finish. “Te Arai” roughly translates to “the place where you pause before going on toward the land of eternal sunshine.”

2020 Te Whare Ra TORU Marlboro (13.4% ABV, 67% Gewurztraminer, 22% Riesling, 11% Pinot Gris, 1150 cases produced)
Very light straw color, almost like water
Playful floral nose, tropical fruit, intense
Well-balanced palate, honey, honeysuckle, round, plump, viscous, stays with your palate.
Unusual
Toru means “three” in Maori – the wine is made out of 3 grapes. All grapes are co-fermented at the winery.

2019 Greenhough Chardonnay Hope Vineyard Nelson (13.85% ABV)
light golden color
Heavy nose of gunflint, a touch of barnyard, nothing else is coming through.
A touch of vanilla, bitter on the palate, all covered in acidity. Chardonnay profile is coming through. Very acidic finish, really not enjoyable overall

2019 Felton Road Pinot Noir Calvert Central Otago (13.5% ABV, biodynamic)
Brilliant Ruby color
Intense nose of sweet plums, licorice, graphite
Light, spicy, creamy, red fruit, underbrush, tart cherries came later, good finish, delicious.

2016 Stonecroft Gimblett Gravels Reserve Syrah Hawke’s Bay (13% ABV, 110 cases produced)
Dark purple ink, almost black
Fresh, red and black fruit, fresh lacquer (I know it doesn’t sound right)
Black pepper, clean, intense black fruit, perfect balance, medium to full body, liquid black pepper.
Impressive wine. Selection of the best barrels from the vintage. Vines planted in 1984

As you can see, Sauvignon Blanc and TORU were two of my favorite whites. I love Central Otago Pinot Noir, and Felton Road is one of my perennial favorites, so I’m happy that the wine was as good as I was expecting it to be. New Zealand Syrah is still not a “thing” here in the USA, but the rendition presented in the tasting (Stonecroft) was outstanding – I would be happy to drink such a wine on a regular occasion.

Organic winemaking is good for the Earth, and it is good for the people. New Zealand is leading the way towards organic viticulture, but the other regions are definitely catching up – for example, Chile is rapidly advancing its sustainable and organic winemaking (we will talk about Chilean sustainable and organic wines in the next few posts). And this is something I’m happy to raise my glass to. Cheers!

 

 

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