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As wine regions across the Northern Hemisphere are busy bringing in the annual grape harvest, there’s increasing focus on organic grape growing practices, with a growing trend of certified organic wines.
A recent report by the International Organisation of Vine and Wine documents that certified organic vineyards have increased by an average of 13 per cent per year between 2005 and 2019. While that intense growth rate can be attributed to the fact that organic certification is a recent initiative, it’s clear that an earth-friendly approach is quickly spreading across the world of wine.
In 2019, 63 countries were involved in organic grape growing and the total amount of certified organic vineyard surface area was estimated to be 454 kha, which represents 6.2 per cent of the world’s vineyard acreage.
The principles behind organic certification for vineyards is similar to other agricultural crops. The use of artificial chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides is prohibited. Organic producers opt to use compost, manure and cover crops instead. Farming decisions are made to support the health of the soil and surrounding environment, which is key to growing quality grapes as well as the long-term viability of the vineyard.
The certification process takes three years, during which time producers must follow organic practices, file supporting paperwork and pay fees to the third-party authority. This transition period can pose challenges as growers risk facing lower yield while implementing alternative pest and fungal disease control methods.
Considering the added labour costs and the expense of certification itself, winemakers aren’t going organic to make more money.
In Canada, the embrace of organic is on the rise in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia. Under the Canadian system, the certification of organic wine is a two-step program. Grape growing is certified as crop production and winemaking, which incorporates fermentation, aging and bottling, is processing.
Led by producers in the Okanagan and Similkameen Valley, there’s a concerted effort to adopt an organic approach in British Columbia. Some estimate that half of the province’s vineyards could be certified organic by 2030. Today, there are more than 900 vineyards spread across 10,260 acres in British Columbia.
The vineyards farmed by the Iconic Wineries of British Columbia, which includes Mission Hill, CedarCreek, CheckMate, Martin’s Lane and Road 13 wineries, have all been certified organic as of this year, which makes the Okanagan home to the largest percentage of organic wines in the world. It’s a tiny ratio compared to large regions, such as Bordeaux or Chianti, but considering the effort, investment and determination at work behind the scenes, it’s no small feat.