The organic and biodynamic vignerons had a terrible year in 2016 with the climate conditions not favouring the organic and biodynamic viticulture. The result has been devastating for some of the certified growers – who were forced to give up organic viticulture to salvage even a small fraction of the harvest.
Being certified organic or biodynamic takes a lot of commitment and persistence and it is therefore a serious set back for these vignerons … and one sometimes wonders if this certification system is fair – when dedicated people lose the certificate due to what could be called ‘force majeure’ like conditions in 2016.
If the certified producers are not supported in a better way … then I fear some of them will give up on the way to a recertification and this would indeed be sad.
They do need all the help and support they can get, as they are doing a tremendous job in implementing and developing the organic or biodynamic viticulture both for themselves but also for future generations of growers.
Focus and commercial visibility
The focus on organic/biodynamic viticulture is high, and a buzz word for many. But in reality many certified organic or biodynamic producers rarely get the credit or the market visibility they deserve for all the hard work getting certified and working organic or bio-dynamically.
One of my Burgundian friends Paul Thomas and his wife Jolanta Bakalarz, have started a nice initiative to promote and sell organic and biodynamic products from their base at Hotel Les Deux Chevres in Gevrey-Chambertin.
I think this an interesting project – although not entirely altruistic – and I want to support the idea, as I think it could fill some of the needs the organic and fully biodynamic growers have, related to visibility, marketing and support.
The Gevrey Wine Club
The Gevrey Wine Club has set its focus on certified organic and biodynamic viticulture, and is trying to promote the producers by endorsing organic and biodynamic viticulture and selling these wines.
Paul and Jolanta who originate respectively from UK and Poland, and run the Hotel Les Deux Chevres in Gevrey-Chambertin, are the founders of the Gevrey Wine Club.
I asked Paul why the Gevrey Wine Club has focused on Organic/Biodynamic viticulture?
He explains – “On a personal level, we are strong supporters of organic and bio-dynamic agriculture. Buying ‘Bio’ is an easy contribution that everyone can make to help reduce the harmful effects on the environment of intensive farming and excessive use of chemicals. When we opened Hotel Les Deux Chevres in Gevrey, all our food and the majority of our maintenance products were sourced from organic suppliers. In relation to the wine, it took us a bit longer to decide to go down the ‘Bio’ route. We became aware of non-certified wine makers who profess an organic approach, but in reality spray at every opportunity, necessary or not. Secondly, an organic or bio-dynamic certificate is a good indication of well made wine, which is important in an area such as Burgundy, where consumers are faced with so many different producers and wines. Finally, consumers are increasingly aware and concerned about what goes in to what they are eating and drinking, and from a commercial perspective, we think this is a good place to be”.
I also asked Paul what fascinates him by working with organic and biodynamic principles and these wine growers? The answer came quite promptly “Winemakers who work organic or bio-dynamically do not get paid any more per bottle than conventional producers of ‘quality’ wines, and have to be passionate about what they do, as the costs of making the wine are higher. In some years, such as 2016, their commitment to Bio farming is tested to the limit. Rather than lose their Bio certificate by spraying chemicals on the vines to prevent the spread of mildew, some winemakers in Burgundy have lost large parts of their crop this year.”
Certified vs non certified producers
One of the difficulties is the question of certification, there are different certificates, some are certified biodynamic or organic, some are on the way to being certified, whereas others are working with the biodynamic principles. This is both complex and in some cases it does not render the consumer much guarantee that the priciples are followed.
According to Paul Thomas certification is the only real guarantee that chemicals are not being used. However he adds “, …that having been said, it may be that some thought needs to be given to creating a derogation in exceptional circumstances. Wine makers simply could not afford to lose their entire crop, and had to come out of Bio in 2016. It would seem harsh if that means they now have to go through the three year conversion period again in order to get their certificate back. It is a difficult area, and we do not profess to know the answer”.
Paul added “If we know a producer well, and have talked to them about their practices in the vineyard, then we would take that on trust. Again 2016 is a good example of why some producers practice organic farming but will not apply for certification”.
Organic and Biodynamic viticulture has been challenged in 2016 – so I asked Paul where he see the future challenges and opportunities for Organic and Biodynamic wine production in Burgundy?
“The challenges are undoubtedly difficult years like the present one, and the general unpredictability of weather conditions as a result of climate change. The opportunities are we think the consuming public’s increasing appetite for chemical free products. Sooner or later, demand will enable the producers to charge a fair price for their commitment and effort.”
How does the Gevrey Wine Club work?
The Gevrey wine club is as mentioned a new initiative, so it’s interesting to hear a bit about the concept and the future of this project.
Paul explained: “It is not a Club in the conventional sense, but a bringing together of Organic and Bio-dynamic producers and consumers interested in great quality wine made sustainably. We will also disseminate information about the benefits of sustainable farming, with regular articles about particular wine makers and their wines.
We are expanding the number of producers that we work with both within and outside of Burgundy. We now work with four of the top 5 Bio producers in Champagne, and leaders in the field of sustainable farming in the Languedoc. We would like to become the reference for sustainable wine making and wine sales in France.”
Organic and Biodynamic viticulture on Winehog
I have decidied henceforward to include more information about organic and biodynamic viticulture in Burgundy. Many of the vigneron I like are following these principles to some degree without being certified.
I have no doubt that following these principles at least to some degree will give me as a consumer better wines … and on top of this are all the positive health and environmental advantages.
As always I’m in it for the wines … and this alone does demand support of the use of organic and biodynamic principles and methods in viticulture and winemaking.
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