In France, the Northern Rhone Valley, one of the oldest wine growing areas, is the home of the great Syrah grape. How the variety first got here is not clear, but the first cultivated vines appear to have been planted in the region around 600BC. Although the varietal can now be found elsewhere in the south of France, Syrah thrives superbly well there in the country’s second biggest river valley situated between Lyon and Valence. Encouraged by the increase in organic viticulture in France, one of France’s most successful wine co-operatives, Cave de Tain has committed to sustainable development with Syrah grape.
Winegrowers say Syrah grapes appreciate a fine view. You only have to look at the Syrah grape vineyards on the privileged Hermitage Hill to see that this is indeed so. The town Tain L’Hermitage might be a small community, but this is France’s Côte du Rhone region, one of the most famous wine producing areas.
The vineyards might not be huge, but they are in a unique privileged location with vines growing on steep terraces facing south thus sheltering the fragile grape from the northern wind. Interesting too are the handcrafted terraces constructed with dry stone walls, ideal for the dark skinned Syrah grapes. France is noted for its wide diversity in conditions regarding terroir, but this region has, without a doubt, the perfect soil and climate for Syrah grapes.
Daniel Brissot vineyard manager from Cave de Tain said that the vineyards are well exposed to sunlight, but when it comes to maintaining the soil, it is not easy to get the tractors up on the steep terraces.”
France's Standard for Organic Wines
Cave de Tain started the organic conversion of some of its vineyards in 2009 and released their first vintage made from organic grapes in 2011. European Regulations changed the following year making organic viticulture more demanding for producers. According to European Law passed August 1, 2012, organic certification must include the whole production process, which means that organic wine is no longer just “wine made from organically grown grapes“ as it was before 2012.
Going organic now includes the conversion process of grapes into wine, just as important as caring for the orchards and certainly is not an overnight affair. Regulations also require a mandatory conversion period of 36 months between conventional and organic growing before producers can start displaying the green sticker, the French AB (organic farming) label. The Agriculture Biologique label signifies that no pesticides, weed killers or other chemicals have been sprayed on the land and the grapes.
Sulfites and Organic Wine
Some consumers say they have a bad reaction to sulfites contained in wine, but sulfites act as a preservative and also have antioxidant properties: these are considered necessary in the wine making business. European wine making regulations permit the addition of sulfites in organic wine but in lower doses.
Organic wine has certainly taken off in a big way. This year’s World Organic Wine Fair Millésime Bio, held in France brought organic wine dealers and visitors not only from Europe but also from Argentina, Austria, Bulgaria, Chile, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, New Zealand, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
The Growing Appeal of Organic Wine
The three-day organic wine fair, restricted only to wine professionals, drew more exhibitors and visitors this year than the year before. Held in Montpellier South of France in January, some 880 companies presented their certified organic wine, an increase from last year when there were 800 exhibiter producers. Millésime Bio reported that foreign visitors represented 25.5 % of buyers against 22 in 2015. Interestingly, Millésime Bio, reports that “wine merchants and importers were the best represented amongst professionals.” This sort of exchange involving competitions, tastings and conferences is essential and encouraging not only for present day producers but also for prospective future organic wine makers.
Whether it is the importance of the provenance of wine, more awareness of the rules of organic farming or simply a profound general concern for the environment, consumers are showing more interest in organic wine.
Jean-Benoit Kelagopian export manager from Cave de Tain confirmed this: “Sales trend is positive for us with the vintage 2015.” He added enthusiastically: “We will release in the coming weeks a red Crozes-hermitage organic AND without sulfites. We foresee a strong interest.”