Organic…well almost

There is certainly a noticeable absence of organic wine kits in our industry and it’s a question that is asked in the shop almost weekly. I thought I should explain why there are no organic wine kits available.
It simply comes down to two main reasons, paperwork and fenceposts.To attain the certification of organic you must meet three criteria:
  1. The agricultural methods must promote the biological health of the soil.
  2. There must be no use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.
  3. The handling of the product must protect the integrity of the food from its source to the table.
What is frustrating is the suppliers of grapes for wine kits meet almost all of these standards. Vineyards tend to be as close to organic just without the certificate. All vineyards are extremely diligent in maintaining the biological health of their soil as grapes take years to grow and the potential for loss is too great. Therefore, soil health is paramount and always a long term concern. Similarly there’s almost no need for synthetic pesticides or fertilizers as the most common spray used is an organic certified “Bordeaux mixture” which is the international standard. Finally a vineyard will never jeopardize the integrity of its product through improper handling. This would lead to burst grapes and the exposed juice would oxidize. This produces poor quality wine and would be catastrophic from a business point of view.
So what’s the problem?
The trellis posts that hold the wires that train the grape vines are often made from lumber that’s pressure treated with a petrochemical. That makes organic certification null and void. There are vineyards that use more expensive alternatives such as concrete posts and special lumber but this is reflected in the price of the wine. While there is a market for this higher priced wine most vineyards find the numbers don’t add up.
The final obstacle is simply paperwork. The cost of processing the bureaucracy to meet the stringent demands of official organic certification is costly in both time and financial resources. The simple fact of the matter is vineyards would rather spend their time growing grapes and making good wine than filling out paperwork.
So if you yearn to drink organic wine from a kit with a clear environmental conscience, remember this…you pretty much are!



You can track the rise and fall of Chardonnay in the scores the varietal has been given over the years. In 1991 Wine Spectator awarded it an average of 87 points and this average had fallen to 81 by 2006. Currently it sits somewhere around the 85 mark. Chardonnay is making a comeback.

In the 70’s we cut our teeth on sweet Germanic wines. During the the late eighties and 90’s we were seduced by the buttery oaky new world Chardonnays of Australia and California. However, as with all periods of fame, there comes an inevitable backlash. People tired of the deep yellow buttery chards and they were dropped in favour of drier, more citrus flavoured stainless steel fermented Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Grigios. Over oaked Chardonnays became frowned upon and dismissed as “beginner wines”. Varietals and winemaking styles come and go and peoples tastes change continually, so too much of a good thing can understandably wear thin. However, before we explore why Chardonnay is experiencing a renaissance, I think its important to distinguish the difference between over oaked yellow Chardonnays from the New World and the varietal “Chardonnay” as a whole.

The Home of Chardonnay is Burgundy. A white Burgundy at its best is the perfect expression of the Chardonnay varietal, combining complex smoky, toasty, buttery, nutty and mineralic elements with firm acidity that holds everything together. To the north of Cote D’Or (the heart of Burgundy) lies Chablis. The home of  the dry light, crisp minerally chardonnay. A chilled glass of Premier Cru Chablis can be as exciting and intoxicating as a glass of excellent champagne. With that in mind , let us not forget that Chardonnay is also one of the two varietals used to make Champagne. Without Chardonnay there would be no Champagne in its purest form! Although Chablis expresses the light characteristic of the varietal, some Chards drink like a red wine. They can be an excellent choice for food pairing with hearty fish and white meat dishes, and if you’re chardonnay is particularly robust, try it with steak, you may be surprised.

So I think we can agree that we are dealing with a varietal of considerable versatility. The Chardonnays the wine producers of the world have to offer today are considerably different in their taste profile. Stainless steel fermentation, and a deliberate avoidance of malolactic fermentation, both help in keeping the buttery, toasty notes of the wines to a minimum  as the citrus, mineral firm acidity move to the forefront. These wines are more subtle, balanced and refreshing on the palate. Winemakers realised the change in public opinion and have manipulated the grape to produce wines that better suit the tastes of the 21st century. It is the magnificent versatility of this grape that allows winemakers to produce such different results from one varietal and there lies the reason for this well deserved renaissance. However, I would like to take this opportunity to express my personal opinion: I think good “old fashioned” unapologetic buttery Chards have their place. I may not choose to sip these wines on the patio in the hot sunshine, but I would have nothing else on my table during Thanksgiving or Christmas. Ladies and Gentlemen, good wine is good wine. Or as the Missus put it, NBC! Nothing But Chardonnay!

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