Organic Wines (May 2019)

About six per cent of New Zealand’s total vineyard area is certified organic. The major certifying agencies, BioGro and AsureQuality, insist that synthetic chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides cannot be used in organic vineyards, and no synthetic chemical additives are allowed in organic wines.

Of the country’s 700-odd wine producers, 45 – from Aurum to Wrights – are fully organic, and more than 10 per cent of wineries have at least some organic output. So do organic wines taste better?

A trial in New Zealand – involving Mission in Hawke’s Bay, Wither Hills in Marlborough and Gibbston Valley in Central Otago – found no major chemical differences between each winery’s organic and conventional wines, and reached no consensus about which tasted best. However, an analysis in 2016 of over 74,000 wines reviewed in three prominent American wine magazines concluded that “being eco-certified increases the score of the wine by 4.1 points [out of 100] on average.”

So why have the majority of New Zealand’s winegrowers not gone down the organic road? The viability of organic wine production is related to each region’s climate. In areas with a favourably warm, dry climate (such as the south of France, the home of organic wines), it is much easier to adopt a chemical-free grape-growing programme, simply because the risk of disease is much lower.

In the humid climate of West Auckland, growers are naturally more cautious about reducing anti-fungal sprays than in the much drier climate of Central Otago. This month’s tasting of organic-certified wines was dominated by wines from Marlborough, Central Otago, North Canterbury and Hawke’s Bay.