Organic, biodynamic have little impact on wine lovers

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Organic, biodynamic and sustainable are words being used to describe wines but the eco-sounding terms have little impact on wine lovers.

A waiter serves a glass of red wine from Spain during a tasting session at Vinexpo Asia-Pacific, the International Wine and Spirits Exhibition for the Asia-Pacific region, in Hong Kong May 28, 2008. REUTERS/Victor Fraile

In a survey of 1,000 consumers by global consulting firm AlixParnters eco-friendly was rated the least important attribute for wines, while price topped the list.

Most European producers, who operate in a strictly regulated market, do not use organic or biodynamic on their labels because they say the paperwork is complicated and the fees for certification are onerous.

“Organic, biodynamic!” sneered Elisabetta Fagiuoli, the owner of Sono Montenidoli vineyards in Tuscany, in a recent interview. “Fads come and go, but culture remains.”

Most California vintners use the term sustainable to describe their winemaking methods. Napa Valley’s Charles Krug winery has earned seven organic certifications but it does not mention the achievements on its bottles.

But in Mendocino County’s wine region, organically made wines are more frequently labeled. Jonathan Frey, the 56-year-old winemaker for Frey Vineyards, claims he started the region’s first organic winery in 1980. His wines are USDA certified organic and he also makes biodynamic wines.

“We were around in the bad ol’ days. Back then, organic had a counter-culture connation -- hippies eating brown rice and stuff,” he said.

Bonterra Vineyards, also in the Mendocino region, produces both organic and biodynamic wines. According to its website biodynamics is “designed to promote and enhance biodiversity and biological activity in the soil.” It also dictates when the grapes are harvested in relation to the moon’s phrases.

Four Chimneys, a winery in upstate New York claims to be the first organic winery in North America, producing its first vintage in 1980. Its wines carry the USDA certified label.

In Washington State’s Columbia Valley, Pacific Rim winemakers are the first and only certified biodynamic vintner in the state.

Marcelo Cordova, the winemaker at Vasija Secreta in Argentina’s Salta province, said he is in the first year of converting to organically grown grapes.

“It is not very difficult for us,” he explained.

His vineyards are in a valley more than a mile above sea-level surrounded by barren mountains. There is not much irrigation and he already uses “goats’ scat as fertilizer,” he explained.

When Nick Glaetzer, the winemaker for Frogmore Creek in the southern Australian state of Tasmania, started there three years ago it was organic. “But it wasn’t financially viable for us.” he said.

“It’s definitely a niche market, but 99.9 percent (of wine drinkers) didn’t respond to having organic on the label.”