Julie Harrison - Organic Wine

Publish Date
Thursday, 12 May 2016, 3:42PM
By Julie Harrison

Along with other food and beverage industries the trend towards organic production is increasing in viticulture and winemaking. If you look at labels over a range of New Zealand wines you will see terms such as organic, sustainable, carbon zero and biodynamic being used.  So what do these mean?

Approximately 6% of New Zealand vineyards are certified organic with many more on the way to gaining organic status. It is predicted that 20% of winegrowers will be organic by 2020.   An extension of organic production is biodynamic production. Biodynamic growers take a truly holistic and philosophical approach to managing the vineyard. They often use a range of biodynamic preparations and the timing of application of these can be influenced by things such as the phases of the moon and planets. There are annual audits of vineyards that wish to gain organic or biodynamic certification and the grower must follow organic methods for three years before they are fully certified.

A large number of New Zealand wines have the “sustainable wine growing” logo on their labels. In the mid-nineties Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand (SWNZ) was formed. This is a program providing winegrowers with guidelines for environmental, social and economic sustainability. By 2012, 94% of producing vineyard area was SWNZ certified. To become accredited the vineyard/winery must follow a strict set of guidelines and industry standards with annual reporting required. Wines that are produced from 100% accredited vineyards and made in accredited wineries can have the sustainable logo on their label.    Other initiatives include carboNZero certification and following the ISO14001 environmental management system.

Obviously the main difference between organic winegrowers and sustainable winegrowers is that organic vineyards cannot use any synthetic agrichemicals. However whether a winegrower is after SWNZ, Organic or Biodynamic accreditation the principles of vineyard management are very similar. The key management areas are biodiversity, soil health, water and air quality, energy conservation, by-product management, people and business management. SWNZ encourages minimal and targeted use of chemicals in the vineyard; which is seen as a complex ecosystem that when kept in balance reduces the need for herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, soluble fertilisers and other unnatural interventions. To reduce chemical use winegrowers use tools such as biological controls, canopy management, cover crops and companion planting. Understanding the life cycle of pests and diseases and the biological makeup of the vineyard also helps in keeping the bugs in control. There are some quite innovative ideas that winegrowers use to help meet some of the objectives of sustainability including:

  • Using sheep to “mow” the vineyard.
  • Introducing natural predators to control pests, e.g. predatory wasps to control leaf roller caterpillar.
  • Composting of winery waste (marc) to be used to improve poor soils.
  • Encouraging the presence of New Zealand’s endangered native Falcons to scare off grape devouring flocks of birds.
  • Using native plant species as groundcover.
  • Planting of native trees and development of wetland areas.

It is not just about the vineyard; efficiencies in the winery such as energy and water conservation, reduction in chemical use, greener packing solutions, recycling of by-products and reducing the use of caustic cleaning agents are all encouraged.

The good news is that the New Zealand Wine Industry is committed to a sustainable future and this is shown clearly by the fact that use of insecticides and fungicides on vineyards has decreased significantly since the mid nineties. I am sure that over the next twenty years we will see a huge increase in organic wine production which is great for the environment and is increasingly important in the development of overseas markets for our wine.

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