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The trendy organic vibe in Lisbon

By 27 | 07 | 2022 109 Comments

This blog will dive into the concept of organic wine through comparing wine and food production, misconceptions and practices, the difference between organic, biodynamic, and sustainable wine, and where you can purchase organic wine in Portugal.  

COMPARING WINE AND FOOD PRODUCTION

A lot of food today is highly processed and contain harmful additives that are toxic and full of chemicals. Just as there can be a long list of ingredients you want to avoid on labels of food at the grocery store including a long list in itself, the same is true for wine. The only difference is wine producers are not required to include ingredients on the bottle and if they do, they may not include every ingredient. What you don´t know can´t hurt you, right? Wrong!

While some additives in wine are necessary and naturally occurring, such as sulphates in some cases, many vineyards use chemicals that can lead to all sorts of diseases. As we lead into an era of caring more so of what we put into our bodies, wine is definitely something to consider. If you don´t care and just want to buy a cheap bottle of wine, all power to you! However, education is always a good thing and we would like to spread the educational love to allow you to make informed decisions about your health and body!

MISCONCEPTIONS AND PRACTICES

So, what makes wine organic? There is a misconception that organic wine has zero additives but that is a myth, organic wine can contain yeast, egg whites, and animal enzymes. While it would be nice to avoid additives all together in a perfect world, the goal is to have the least additives possible, especially the ones that are the most harmful. What does label a wine as conventional vs organic is the use of chemicals that are used to combat the natural elements such as weather and insects. For example, pesticides and fungicides are used where there is low wind and higher moisture in the air that causes fungus, areas also more likely to have a higher number of insects. The mentality behind this for winemakers is not to hurt their customers, but instead to avoid losing grapes. Although sulphates can still be found in organic wine, in European countries, there is a reduction of the maximum limits for sulphites or sulphur dioxide in order to consider their wine as organic.

If it is possible to create organic wine with fewer harmful additives, why don´t all winemakers go this route, especially if winemakers have been fermenting grapes organically for thousands of years? In order to produce organic wine, it requires a lot of more time, money and patience. In addition, some winemakers, just like food producers, manipulate ingredients and process them to reach a higher number of desired palettes. More desired palettes mean more money for the producer. However, this does not mean organic wine is less delicious than conventional wine. At one time this may be true but it is becoming more and more difficult to tell the difference between the two.

ORGANIC VS BIODYNAMIC WINE

To create organic wine, the winemaker tries not to intervene with the natural state of the vineyards. This takes a lot of careful planning and attention to detail. Many winemakers use organic methods or biodynamic farming to achieve this. Biodynamic farming takes organic farming to another level. It is a holistic understanding of the interconnectivity between everything in agriculture. The attention to detail has less focus on the crop of grapes in a particular year and more focus on how the vineyard is set up in general including the processes of planting, pruning, and harvesting. While organic wines focus on ensuring the wine is without harmful chemicals, biodynamic farming creates naturally organic wines through biodynamic practices.

According to the Biodynamic Association, there are particular principles and practices to follow. Biodynamic farming is a living organism, cultivates biodiversity, brings plants and animals together, generates on-farm fertility, enhances soil and plant health, treats animals with respect, works in rhythm with earth and cosmos, offers regenerative solutions for the future, and so much more.

An example of biodynamic farming within a vineyard includes using sheep to graze the land rather than mowing and using herbicides. Sheep focus on the rows between vines and manage the crops, take care of pest plants, weeds and soil without affecting grapes, leaves and irrigation. Vineyards that practice biodynamic farming may also have chickens, pigs, turkeys and geese, each having their own special place in the ecosystem. Chickens reduce parasites on the sheep, pigs are weed killers, and turkeys and geese are pest killers and sanitizers.

SUSTAINABLE WINE

Sustainable wine may not be quite at the organic level, but they are better than conventional wines. Sustainable wine practices will use organic techniques but will ´skip a step´ if it doesn’t make economic sense for them, such as being too expensive.

DO YOUR RESEARCH

How do I know if a wine is organic, biodynamic or sustainable? There are some vineyards that are organic but do not carry the label on their bottles because attaining the status can be costly. Since biodynamic wines are organic, they can get legal organic certification. There are no certifications to show a wine is biodynamic or sustainable, however, they are able to join associations to formally list themselves as such or they are can label this status on their bottle. At the end of the day, just as it is ultimately up to the consumer of food to do their research and determine what they are comfortable putting into their bodies, the same goes for consumers of wine. Do your research!

ORGANIC IN PORTUGAL

While there is a small number of wines in Portugal that are labelled as organic, there are more vineyards that are organic but are not yet conveyed as such. The highest number of organic vineyards in Portugal can be found in the Beira Interior region.

There is a project amongst winemakers in Portugal who decided to come together and form a quality brand of wine using only the best grapes. This project is called Casca Wines, and because this group focuses on quality, many of their wines are organic including red, white, rosé and reserve wine. It is worth mentioning they have not yet found organic Vinho Verde wine, but they are working on finding producers.

Casca wine has an online store (found here) making it very easy to find and order organic wine. Their website also suggests buying organic wine from any hypermarket or in special stores (such as Celeiro or El Corte Inglés). Two brands of organic wine found on their online store are 1808 and Monte Cascas, both are inexpensive and are from the Beira Interior region.

WRAPUP

I hope you learned a little more about organic and biodynamic wine and are able to carry this information with you in the future. I will end this post with some words taken from a VinePair article written by Keith Beavers (2017),

“Good winemakers know their grapes and know their land. They are in tune with the climate and work hard to balance nature and technology to make great wine. Mother Nature is unrelenting, and of all the alcoholic beverages out there, wine is the most susceptible to her capriciousness. Good winemakers also know this and will usually do everything they can not to mess with nature, but sometimes may have to trick her a bit into thinking she has control.” (Beavers, 2017)

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