Sunday, July 08, 2007

Dear Friends:

Greetings from San Francisco! In recent months, we have received an increased number of requests for information about organic wines. These requests emanate both from the public and the media. Questions we thought we had answered continue to be asked over and over again. "Why should consumers care about organic wines?" We are truly delighted with this steadily growing interest in what we do and why we do it, and therefore it is with much pleasure that we update you as to the status of organic wines.

For starters, what do we mean by an Organic Wine? First and foremost, it's a wine made from certified organically grown grapes. The fundamental idea behind organic wine is that making wine from grapes grown without pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers is clearly better for our planet AND therefore, in all likelihood, better for you, the wine drinker.

"Why should consumers care about & choose organic wines?" Well, let's take a look at the alternative. Conventional wines are the result of conventional agricultural practices. These were adopted in large part after the last World War and rely heavily on chemicals. The problem with that approach is that these chemicals damage the soil, the vine, the air, the water, the farmers, and, in all likelihood, all of us down the road. Not only that, this approach triggers a destructive circle of poison. Pesticides, herbicides and fungicides throw the natural harmony of the vineyard completely off balance. Chemical fertilizers strip the soil of minerals essential to its health, thus necessitating an ever-increasing reliance on artificial inputs to restore what has been lost.

There is an enormous amount of scientific evidence, which we will review in more details for you at a later date, documenting how pesticides, weed killers, fungicides and other chemical substances damage the soil and the plant, its fruits and everyone else in their path. Grapes are no exception and wine is merely liquid grapes. Make no mistake, grapes are one of the most heavily sprayed crops around. When pesticides are sprayed on the grape skins to protect them from disease, they end up as residue in the wine (by being washed from the grapes as they are pressed or put in the vat). And then there are the systemic pesticides which are sprayed on the ground, absorbed by the vine roots, end up in the grape pulp, and therefore inevitably as residue in the wine.

Thankfully, there is the sustainable approach, namely, organic farming. There is absolutely no question that organic farming methods are better for the earth and all of its inhabitants. They are based on traditional, common sense farming methods which are not harmful to people or the environment. Like the Chinese acupuncturist, the organic farmer's primary objective is balance, and his other mandate is the Hippocratic Oath: "First do no harm." The key to the success of organic farming is maintaining a balanced, fertile soil. Why? Because a healthy soil is likely to produce a healthy plant capable of fighting off disease. How is that achieved without the use of heavy-duty chemicals? Well, let's bear in mind that our forefathers did manage to reap some fruits from their land before the advent of Malathion & RoundUp.

Let's briefly review some of the organic techniques & tools. "First do no harm," said Hippocrates, the father of medicine. That is our motto as well. Therefore, instead of chemical fertilizers, we spread manure or algae in the vineyards. Instead of spraying pesticides, we promote biodiversity. That means we grow plants other than vines in and around the vineyard. Why? Because biodiversity helps regulate the vineyard soil by attracting beneficial flora and fauna into the vineyards, such as insects, spiders and predatory mites. Cover crops provide shelter and food (pollen, nectar) to "beneficial bugs" which decreases/replaces the need for insecticides or pesticides.

What cannot be fully controlled through biodiversity can still be managed organically, through the use of naturally occurring plant or mineral extracts, which leave no residues in the soil. As for weeds, we let them grow, and we mow periodically so that the cut weeds rot back into the ground, thus providing organic fertilizer. Needless to say this approach is much more labor-intensive than the conventional quick fixes. In fact, it costs on average 20% more per unit, and the yield will be less. In our opinion the costs are more than worth the outcome by any measure you want to use.

All right, all right, you say, organic viticulture is better for the earth and probably for me, but are the wines any good? That's what I want to know. Well, what would be the point of producing something, organic or otherwise, that no one can drink? Relax, nowadays many organic wines are every bit as good as their conventional counterpart, and as affordable and varied. Some feel that organic wines are actually better, and that they taste more flavorful and "cleaner." That's what we hear most often. Of course, it's always a matter of personal opinion. However, more and more, consumers AND critics are beginning to think that they do taste better.
One theory is that since organic vineyards have more natural resistance to poor weather or pestilence, they tend to perform better in poor vintages than non-organic ones. Additionally, many organic vineyards harvest by hand, rather than using mechanical pickers. This allows only the ripest and healthiest bunches to be picked, with the minimum amount of stress to the vine, fruit or soil.

In short, why do we encourage you to choose organic wines? Well, because they're very good, because they are very affordable, and because when you do, you help us break the "circle of poison." There is absolutely no question that organic agriculture is the way OF the future and the way TO our future, therefore we should all support it wherever and whenever we can.

'Till Next Time...

Warmly,Véronique Raskin

President & Founder

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