Organic viticulture: Just a fashion or a way of managing a vineyard?

For some time now in Spain, new forms of viticulture have been introduced in addition to traditional methods. In general, the wineries that choose to switch to organic viticulture try their utmost to ensure that work in the vineyards shows as much respect as possible for the land so that the wines are a faithful reflection of their native terroir. Some progress or evolve towards 100% biodynamic winegrowing, and maximum respect for the land. Others go part of the way.

How can organic winegrowing be defined? What does it consist of? How do different types of climate affect this type of viticulture? Is it a setback if vineyards farmed organically share land with others that are not? Is it a fashion or a long-term commitment? What is the ultimate goal? These are some of the questions that most wine lovers consistently ask when it comes to differentiating a style of winegrowing that is characterized, basically, by respect for the land and for traditional techniques. Here, a series of wineries from different regions and Spanish designations of origin share their point of view on the issue.

RUBIÒ DE SOLS WINERY: XAREL.LO DEL MONTSEC IN A BOTTLE

A winemaker by profession, Judit Sogas Sánchez graduated in oenology 25 years ago, and is also an agricultural engineer. She currently manages and works in her own winery and vineyards.

 

A landscape with the vineyards of the Costers of the Segre D.O.

 

Subjected to an extreme climate, strong contrasts between a very cold winter and a very hot summer, this winery in the province of Lleida, as Judit says, “is perfect for organic winegrowing. In the budding season we experience more difficulties due to spring frosts, and in summer, the dry, warm climate makes fungal diseases less common. In short, it is an area that is conducive to growing organic grapes and wines.” Here, respect for nature is fundamental, and that is how Judit defines organic viticulture, as respect for the environment, which if you do so properly, will give back a healthy, balanced product. In the words of the winemaker, “as a woman and as a human being, I respect nature in all senses, from the physical, physiological and chemical point of view. Mother Nature is wise and we should only listen to her and respect her.”

Given the enormous difficulties involved in certification as a winery that uses biodynamic techniques, and also the extra costs that this entails making the final product more expensive, at Rubió de Sols the decision was made, at least momentarily, not to go through the bureaucracy involved in certification.

Judit has a strong commitment to nature that also applies to her personal outlook, as she believes that she has to take care of the land. Her way of working, whether certified biodynamic or organic or not in the future, will continue to be based on a conviction of respect for the land. In some ways, and given current trends, this can play to her advantage when marketing her wines in a very complex and increasingly demanding market.

 

TORRE DEL VEGUER: “THERE IS ONLY ONE PLANET AND WE MUST TAKE CARE OF IT”

Listed as an historic-artistic monument by the Generalitat de Catalunya, this winery is located in the Massís del Garraf, in Barcelona province, with breezes from the Mediterranean Sea (4 km away). The philosophy and values of the company, as well as the people who work there, are reflected in its organic winegrowing. Torre del Veguer’s vineyard management shows deference to the environment. According to the winery’s manager, “we spray the vineyards with pure products that are not derived from chemicals. They are not modified in order protect the vineyard more effectively. We use integrated organic viticulture, and only treat the vineyard when required”.

 

Joaquín Gay de Montellá, manager of the Torre del Veguer winery

 

The proximity of the vineyards to the Mediterranean Sea means that the relative humidity of the air is always above 60%. This factor can hinder tasks in the field and cause problems for organic viticulture. This is an important issue for the winery. As Joaquín Gay de Montellà, manager of Bodegas Torre del Veguer, recounts: “fungi and bacteria are friends of humidity, darkness and enclosed environments. Therefore, we are obliged to carry out shoot removal to promote well-aerated and healthy vines, at the expense of productivity.” As previously mentioned, the drier the climate, the more organic viticulture becomes feasible. In the case of Torre del Veguer, production has been 100% organic since 2016, when all the grapes that entered the winery were certified as such.

Today, the winery does not intend to commit to 100% biodynamic viticulture (the final step of the process) but has made a pledge to protect the environment, thereby doing its bit for the sustainability of the planet. In the words of Torre del Veguer’s manager, “There is only one planet and we must take care of it”.

 

BOCOPA: STRENGTH IN UNITY

This winery, in the DO Alicante, was established in the late twentieth century (1987) from the combination of several Alicante wineries that merged to improve the marketing of their wines. In fact, by forming a cluster akin to a bunch of grapes under the name Bocopa, they decided to move from bulk sales to bottled. Their logo symbolizes that combination.

Located in the province of Alicante, where the climate is fairly dry with scarce rainfall, this part of the Mediterranean is highly conducive to organic winegrowing. Potential diseases typical of areas with a humid climate and high level of rainfall, such as mildew, are minimized, as is the presence of rot at harvest time. Field technician Toni Santonja says, “for fertilization, we only apply organically- sourced products and reduce agro-chemicals to a minimum, using only products authorised for organic winegrowing. All of this is supported by in-depth knowledge of both the plots and how they perform, as well as the biological cycles of pests and diseases.” Although the objective of some wineries is to move towards 100% biodynamic, this is not the case at Bocopa.

“Our main objective is not to use biodynamic viticulture. Our goal is to ensure that all our producers end up embracing natural and organic viticulture. We always try to help our wine growers, even if they do not farm organically, to use the lowest number of treatments with products that are the most nature- friendly”. Environmental conservation and food safety are commitments that are very present in the winery’s day to day operations, but this does not preclude awareness of interest in the market for organic products. This is a point the winery takes into account when creating its wines.

 

BODEGAS ALTO LANDON: A FAMILY BUSINESS 1,080M ABOVE SEA LEVEL

This young family business in the province of Cuenca was founded in 2000 by Manuel, who works in the vineyard, and Rosalia, the winemaker in charge of marketing. The winery is located in the centre of the 55 hectares of organic vineyard belonging to them. The extensive area under vine, the climate and the height at which the vines grow, create different terroir characteristics and, therefore, different types of wines. As Rosalía Molina, winemaker and owner of Alto Landon explains: “In our specific case, given that our vineyards are 1,100 metres above sea level, climate has a direct impact on the production of quality organic wines, with varieties that do not react in the same way as in other areas. At higher altitudes, where the air is fresher, greater balance is achieved between parameters such as alcohol, pH levels and acidity, with greater concentration owing to higher sun radiation”.

Alto Landon was one of the first wineries to secure certification for the entire estate from the start, which attests to its total commitment to organic viticulture. They do not use chemicals in the vineyard or during the winemaking process. In the words of the winemaker, “we take advantage of natural resources and are committed to the environment, preferring this approach to prevent diseases with natural products.” At the time, when some wineries began to introduce organic farming, there were many derogatory comments about this type of wine, and the winery had to endure comments such as “something was wrong” with organic wines, which, obviously, stemmed from ignorance about this type of wine and viticulture.

Manuel and Rosalía, the young couple who have put a lot of effort into this project for almost twenty years, are clear that their ultimate goal is to achieve 100% biodynamic viticulture, but certification is not, at least at the moment, one of their priorities. They are committed “to following nature’s lead, without taking anything from the earth and adding only what is needed”.

 

BODEGAS NAVARRSOTILLO: ORGANIC WINES FROM RIOJA


The cornerstone of wines from this winery located in the heart of La Rioja, in Calahorra, is the wisdom passed down by the predecessors and founders of the winery, as well as the winemaking skills of Andrés and Ramón Serrano, brothers and heirs to this family business. Andrés focuses on work in the vineyard and Ramón on the winery, with advice from different professionals of differing nationalities. The vineyards of this Rioja winery stretch over 70 hectares in Calahorra, Andosilla and San Adrián. The area has a Mediterranean climate, with cold winters, mild and rainy springs and autumns, and hot, dry summers.

A few decades ago the brothers decided to aim for organic farming in order to obtain quality wines. Now, all their wines are certified. According to Lorenzo Baños, the winery’s general manager, “we firmly believe that the health of our land is of great importance for obtaining quality wines, so in our daily work there is no room for synthetic chemicals. All our Rioja wines are supervised and certified by the Rioja Organic Agriculture Control Body, ES-ECO-027-RI. In the case of Navarra, supervision is carried out by the Navarra Organic Production Council, ES-ECO-025-NA, and the DEMETER Spain Certification Office.” In their Rioja winery, they use modern technology to make their wines: stainless steel vats, refrigerated cellars, a laboratory, an ageing cellar and bottle storage, for instance. This is complemented by thorough working procedures to ensure the quality of the end product. International certifications regarding quality management systems, environmental management and food safety management are proof of their achievements and meticulous approach.

 

Harvest time at the Hoya del Navío winery

 

BOYA HOYA DEL NAVÍO: ORGANIC WINEGROWING IN THE CANARY ISLANDS

Jesús Rodríguez Franco has been farming organically in the Canary Islands for 25 years. With just 2.3 hectares of vines, this small producer firmly believes that organic farming is necessary, the environment must be protected and the quality and authenticity of the grapes must be maximised. He grows Listán Negro and Negramoll.

In fact, on the first labels a text stated: ‘.... vines cultivated using methods that respect the environment and are healthy for the consumer, in the quest for a balanced, stable and productive agrosystem’. An unmistakable mission statement. The Canary Islands, located at latitudes close to the tropics, offer very different characteristics to those found on the Iberian Peninsula. Mild winters and summers and trade winds are key to growing vines, especially the trade winds, which dry the vines and reduce the potential for disease or fungi. Jesús intervenes little in both the crop and the winery. He provides thorough care based on prevention, nutrition, and restoring soil life to “obtain more rustic and resistant plants and more flavoursome and healthier fruit”.

Jesús is not driven by short-lived trends or marketing tactics that seek short-term economic benefits but rather by environmentally-friendly winegrowing with minimal intervention. The winery uses some biodynamic techniques, but does not aim to become 100% biodynamic.

 

By Santiago Jiménez

Photographs: Courtesy of the estates