* Sulphite content cut not enough, say organic producers
* Alternative methods to preserve wine need to be developed
* Organic wine has marketing appeal
By Svetlana Kovalyova
VERONA, Italy, April 24 Italian vintners who
avoid chemicals are disappointed with the new EU rules for
labelling wines organic, saying the long-awaited criteria are
After lengthy debate, the European Commission agreed in
February on a set of conditions which will allow a wine made
from organic grapes to be called "organic wine". Such a label is
expected to lure health-conscious consumers around the world.
Reaction from Italy, Europe's second-biggest grower of
organic grapes after Spain, was mixed: with cheers from the
agriculture ministry and scepticism from farmers who put a lot
of effort and funds into making chemicals-free wine.
"The rules are too broad. With my own rules, I am much more
restrictive than Brussels," Gregorio Dell'Adami de Tarczal,
owner of an organic farm in Tuscany and winemaker, told Reuters
at a wine fair at the end of March.
New rules for the much-contested use of sulphites in wine
are the most thorny issue.
De Tarczal, who makes 30,000 bottles of wine and 2,000
bottles of grappa a year from organic grapes he grows without
chemical pesticides or fertilizers, said he already adds only
20-25 mg of sulphites per litre, way below the new EU rules.
Health-conscious consumers tend to shy away from products
containing sulphites which are added as preservatives to wine,
foods and cosmetics but can be an irritant which causes rashes
and wheezing in people who are sensitive to them.
Under the new EU regulation which kicks in with this year's
wine harvest, maximum sulphite content for organic wine will be
cut by 50 mg per litre from the levels allowed for conventional
dry wines and by 30 mg per litre for sweet wines.
That means newly labelled dry red organic wine will be
allowed a sulphite content of up to 100 mg per litre, while up
to 150 mg per litre of sulphites could be added to organic white
and rose dry wines.
"We are not satisfied," Domenico Bosco, wine expert at
Italy's biggest farmers' association Coldiretti, said.
"We wanted regulations to include a reduction of sulphite
content by at least a half. To start with a 50 percent cut, but
aiming at a complete elimination of the use of sulphites in the
organic wine within three to five years," Bosco said.
OLD AND NEW WAYS TO KEEP WINE FRESH
In the meantime, new techniques will be developed and
sharpened to allow producers to preserve wine without using
sulphites, for example, injection of inert gases to protect wine
from bacteria, he said.
Some winemakers rely on the old methods to prevent wine from
Claudia Carretti, who with her husband makes what they call
natural wines, said they do without added sulphites and use
instead an ancient long maceration process with grape skins left
fermenting together with other grape materials for a long time.
"We have wine which is 7 years old and it's a proof that the
ancient technique works," said Carretti whose family makes about
20,000 bottles of natural wine at their Podere Pradarolo estate
near Parma in central Italy.
For Bosco, the new rules also mean a missed marketing
opportunity for organic wine makers who had counted on more
stringent criteria to give them a competitive advantage over
Makers of good conventional wine in Italy, Spain and
southern France where natural conditions help farmers grow
healthy grapes, keep sulphite contents close to new limits set
for organic wine, he said.
Italy needs to boost production of organic wine if it wants
to compete with other major winemakers in the small but rapidly
growing organic wine market, especially in northern Europe where
consumers are very attentive to healthy food and drinks,
winemakers and experts said.
"Having an organic product is a major plus for expanding in
Nordic markets," Tiziana Sarnari, wine analyst at Italian
agricultural think tank ISMEA said.
About 200 million litres of wine are made from organic
grapes a year in Italy, or just about 5 percent of total annual
wine output in the world's second-biggest wine producer.
Organic vineyards occupied just 30,341 hectares in Italy in
2010, with another 21,931 hectares being converted into organic
farming, against 670,107 hectares under all vineyards in the
country, according to Italian organic farming database SINAB.
(Reporting by Svetlana Kovalyova, editing by Paul Casciato)