Today’s guest post is courtesy of Carlo Pandian.
The presence of organic wine production in France is not just a fad that is limited to the side lines, or a ‘wacky’ period of experimentation. Wine grown from organically certified grapes (because, strictly speaking, there is such thing as ‘organic wine’ in the EU) has very much taken hold in the great vinous country. But what are the motivations behind the switch and how does this impact on French wine production as a whole?
It may not be completely unfair to say that the wines hailing from the Languedoc haven’t always had the best reputation, mainly, but not exclusively, for valuing quantity over quality. The fact that this is the single biggest wine-producing region in the world and makes up more than a third of France’s total production says a lot. But in more recent years, Languedoc is garnering a reputation for more quality production, usually within the more well-known appellations such as Corbières AC and Minervois AC. But there are also exciting producers bucking the trend even more by creating wines from organically grown grapes where the emphasis is very much on the quality. Mas Coutelou is one such operation and holds the impressive accolade of being one of the first French estates to be certified organic in 1987. Situated in Puimission, the emphasis here is on creating wines that are the best possible expression of the terrior with very little intervention. This means not only using organic grapes, but also avoiding the use of sulphur during vinification if at all possible and bottling without filtration. The results are outstanding and unusual, and tellingly, only produced in suitable vintages. The dedication of this producer shows that the effort put into making ‘organic’ wines goes hand in hand with the effort required for making quality wines.
And this harmony between quality and organic production is also evident in other traditional wine regions. Chateau de la Bonnelière sits in the heart of Chinon in the Loire Valley, makes world class Chinon Rouge and Touraine Sauvignon and has been working towards its celebrated organic status for the last decade. Winemaker Marc Plouzeau classes himself as a ‘minimal interventionist’, again placing the utmost importance on expressing the sense of place in his wines. The slow process of organic certification undertaken by this traditional family estate shows this is no flash in the pan fad in the traditional world of French wine.
The predominance of chemical pesticides in the area of mass production is completely understandable – by its very nature, this process does not have the time or afford to take the risks associated with a more natural approach. And when you put this is the context of the phylloxera crisis in the 19th century, it goes without saying that the wine industry as a whole wants to do all it can to prevent such a catastrophe again, and this includes undertaking the widespread use of pesticides to prevent vine disease. But with organic practices being adopted by the upper echelons of the wine industry – Domaine de la Romanée Conti no less – world class production and organic production are becoming increasingly common bedfellows within the French industry.
Carlo Pandian is an Italian expat based in London and wine blogger. He loves sharing his knowledge with the readers of Blood, Sweat & Fashion and recommends trying new wines for pleasure and culture. Connect with him on Twitter @carlopandian.