Viticulture & winemaking
Organic viticulture is becoming increasingly popular in Germany
Organic winegrowing in Germany has been growing steadily for about 40 years now. The vineyard area for organic viticulture has more than tripled in the past ten years. An estimated 9,300 hectares of vineyards (2018) are now managed organically, which corresponds to around 9% of the total area under vines. In percentage terms, Germany is also doing well in comparison with other winegrowing countries.
How do organic wine producers work?
The difference to normal viticulture lies in the cultivation of the vineyards. It is also the ideological approach of maintaining a balanced ecosystem in the vineyard, that makes a difference. Chemical synthetic substances are not used, in order to keep the environmental impact as low as possible. Therefore, fertilization is done with humus, compost or other organic nutrient suppliers rather than mineral fertilizers. This continues with crop protection, where only pure sulfur and copper are used against powdery and downy mildew. More recently, baking powder (sodium bicarbonate) has been used successfully instead of sulfur and the preference is preemptive - to strengthen the vines' resistance with plant strengthening agents. Weeds in the vineyard are only removed mechanically, i.e. without chemical herbicide. In order to maintain the soil life and biodiversity in the vineyards as actively as possible, all organically cultivated vineyards are planted with various plants between the rows of vines. The switch from conventional to organic viticulture takes three years.
EU Regulation on Organic Wine (2012)
With the 2012 vintage, a new EU regulation came into force, which also regulated the production of organic wines in the cellar. For example, the maximum limit for sulfur levels in organic wines was slightly reduced compared to conventionally produced wines; certain wine treatment additives were forbidden; some additives must be of organic origin; and no genetic engineering, for example for yeasts, is allowed. Wines which are produced according to these guidelines, can be described as bio wine, organic wine or eco wine and labelled with the green EU logo.
Organic wines also often carry the logos of associations on the label, where the wineries can have their production certified according to strict ecological criteria. In viticulture, these are: Ecovin, Bioland, Naturland or Demeter. The Ecovin association, founded in 1985, is the largest association of organic wineries worldwide. The approximately 245 German members currently cultivate around 2,606 hectares (2019) of vineyards in eleven growing regions. Overall, around 50% of all organic winegrowers are organized in associations. The other producers have been certified according to the EU standard for organic viticulture.
There are also different grades within organic viticulture. Winegrowers who work biodynamically for instance, try to use the powers of the moon and the planets. They draw from the teaching of the anthroposophist Rudolf Steiner who founded the Waldorf School system. The number of biodynamic winemakers has been growing in recent years.
Environmentally friendly viticulture is standard in Germany
The motto “as much as necessary but as little as possible” applies to crop protection and fertilization not only in organic viticulture but also in conventional. Many successful concepts from organic farming have found their way into general viticulture.
To combat the damage caused by the grapevine moth, artificial pheromones are now commonly hung in more than half of Germany’s vineyards – that is, in both organic and conventional viticulture. A synthetic version of the female’s pheromones are filled into ampoules which are then hung out in the vineyards, creating a concentrated cloud of fragrance which inspires the male moth to seek a mate. Yet he remains ultimately confused as none can be found, therefore the mating cycle is disrupted and damage to the grapes prevented.
Do organic winegrowers use other grape varieties?
The range of grape varieties used by organic winegrowers does not differ much from conventional producers, however, they are more likely to seek grape varieties that are resistant to fungal diseases. One of the most successful varieties of this type, which are also known colloquially as ‘Piwi’, is the ‘Regent’ grape. It produces dark, strong red wines with the aroma of cherries and currants and is ideal paired with game dishes or lamb. New varieties such as 'Solaris' or 'Johanniter' can now be found more frequently amongst white wine grape varieties.
Everything under control
Producers who want to label and market their products as organic must follow the EU Organic Wine Directive. All certified producers are checked annually by an independent control body for compliance. If you belong to an organic association, there is a further check with even stricter guidelines specific to each organization.
Organic wines are now well distributed in Germany. You can of course find them in bio shops, but also in general wine shops or grocery stores. Of course they are available, and this is certainly the greatest experience, directly from the winegrower or in some cooperatives that cultivate part of their vineyards organically. All associations have a list of their affiliated winegrowers online, and are happy to forward them to interested wine lovers.