An organically-grown minirant

I have wondered long and hard about how to write this blog while working for a single wine estate; the risk being either getting fired for recommending everyone else’s wines or risking tedium by writing only about one wine only. Also, can one be particularly controversial (if I am ever) or outspoken if one is known to be associated with a specific place? So, at the beginning of this post, let me quite simply say that, while the frustrations that I mention below have come to a head because of where I work, the expression of this frustration is my own and does not necessarily represent the views of my employer!

So, here goes. *takes deep breath*

Why is it SO hard to export organic wine?

Let me rephrase that. Why is it SO hard to export organic wine as organic wine.

PinotThe producer I work for farms organically and biodynamically, without exception. We use sulphur (apart from on designated blocks), which is permitted under organic regulations, but we do not use inorganic herbicides and pesticies, plus we add our own “preparations” in accordance with biodynamics – these are all created from natural products, and made within the estate itself. In the winery, we use sulphur (apart from for one particular wine) and native yeasts, little or nothing else – and all organic.

This is all well and good, and it is done as part of the philosophy of our owner and the team here, rather than to reap any benefits of being organic (are there any financially?). However, if we want to write on our label that we are organic and biodynamic, we – and our importers – run up against all kinds of problems.

In the States, we can’t say we’re organic. We use PMS (nothing to do with moods at certain phases of the moon) to add sulphur in the winery and that is forbidden under US organic regulations. We can however, as of this year, say that the wine is made using organically-grown grapes and we have to get a COLA (not coca) to approve each and every label we export into the States – this all has to be overseen by our importers, for whom I am sure it is a logistical pain in the neck.

indexIn Europe, we can say that we are “organic wine” (it has to be written exactly thus) and we can give our biogro certification. However, if we do so, we not only have to courier original copies of all certifying paperwork for each shipment (no electronic copies here, because fraudulently claiming to be organic would be the end of the world, right?), but our importers also have to apply for and pay for a special license to be allowed to import and sell organic wine. It can be a real hindrance to sales to smaller importers who baulk at the costs and general-faffing involved.

I won’t go into every market, but essentially there are rules (different ones) for each and every country, each requiring different hoops to be hopped through, different certificates to be applied for and various amounts of money to be paid for this. All for the privilege of being able to say that we don’t add chemicals to our vineyards.

Yet, if you decide to Roundup (other herbicides are available) everything to within an inch of its existence, spray your vines with Karate (all-destroying-insecticide) at the first sign of anything with wings approaching, do you have to apply for and pay for any additional sort of export licenses? Not that I’m aware of. I guess because you don’t put it on the label!

Now, I appreciate that regulations are in place to avoid fraud etc., and there are undoubtedly companies that fly close to the line, and may even tell massive porkies when it comes to the claims they make regarding the organic-ness of their products. But, as there is little or no premium these days for organic wines, and it’s possible to export and sell non-organically produced wine without these reams of paperwork, official stamps and cheques to relevant authorities, it seems largely ridiculous.

If we took all references to organic from our labels and removed our biogro certification, we would quite happily and easily be able to export into any market. . Removing those things would not change what we did on the estate, and would not mean that our wine would sell for less, but it seems such a shame to be unable to mention something that is at the heart of what we do without it causing problems for both us and our partners

And actually, while I’m ranting, can I just ask again world-labelling-decision-makers, can you please get together and decide on a universal label that you are all happy with in terms of what can and cannot be said, in what way, and at what size. The company I work for sells into around 25 markets and, while they don’t all require a unique label, it’s still a LOT of different labels each and every time we have a wine bottled. It would be SO nice to have it simplified. *dreaming*

I’m sure that I’ve oversimplified certain elements, but the reality is that organic labeling costs money, costs sales and complicates everything, when really it could be so much simpler.

Right. Rant(s) over. Sorry about that. It’s been brewing for a while.

On a FAR more positive note, NZ winter so far is absolutely amazing. It does rain sometimes, and it can be pretty cold, but the sunshine! As someone who spent 3 months of many years under a reasonably consistent blanket of cloud, the prevalence of clear blue sky and sunshine here is incredible. There is a lot that the UK does well when it comes to winter (Christmas lights, roast chestnuts, really good pubs, central heating, roast dinners), but I’m so solar-powered that I must say I’m rather enjoying this version.



Today’s stuck-in-head-song – Foux da Fafa – Flight of the Conchords

Today’s dinner – spicy chorizo, aubergine and halloumi somethingorother

Today’s drinks – 6 Cepage Rioja

Today’s footwear – tan leather ankle boots


  • Rebecca Jones says:

    I like your rant, it is relevant and factual. It might be possible that companies who manufacture chemicals may have more sway with the powers that make the rules and this could have some bearing on why marketing organic wine is so difficult. This is especially true in the US where you see this sort of thing with companies who manufacture and produce guns, tobacco, drugs and oil and I have no doubt chemical manufacturers are on the same level. It’s all about the money. How much can be made at our expense and if you’re not buying their chemicals, well, they just have to get you to spend money some other way. My advice is keep doing what you’re doing, don’t put it on your label and write about your organic practices online. Give your customer the opportunity to search you out online with relevant label cues. At the end of the day, what’s in the bottle will speak for itself.

  • francis says:

    Nice summary. One of the hurdles in NZWG reaching 20% Organic by 2020.

  • So true Kat! When we go through the label printing stuff I sometimes wish it would be the other way around. Label regulations would require to list all ingredients and possible residuaIs from vineyard sprays. We would have one ingredient only an easy job and happy consumers ;-)

  • Piers says:

    Hi Kat
    I have a staff member who would like to come to NZ Sept-Feb and work in wine in some way. Could you email me if you know of anyone who might be able to help. Have emailed Wendy at Zephyr and waiting to hear from her.

    Hope you are enjoy NZ life.

    Best wishes,

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