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Organic Wine from New Zealand: Why it’s Worth Seeking Out!

Organic wine from New Zealand

Organic wine from New Zealand is a growing phenomenon, with many of the country’s major wineries leading the way. What sets New Zealand’s organic wines apart and where can you find good examples? Read on to find out more.

Sustainability is the new buzz word for conscientious wineries. This is not to say that sustainable viticulture and winemaking is a recent development, just that messaging to consumers has become far more pervasive.

This upswing in sustainable wine talk, while laudable, has also created a certain amount of confusion amongst wine lovers. Organic, biodynamic, sustainable… where does one practice end and the other begin?

Unfortunately, there are no simple answers. There is also a fair amount of overlap. Many sustainable wineries practice organic viticulture, and numerous organic producers also farm biodynamically or observe certain biodynamic principles.

Thankfully, certain wine regions have taken pains to clarify matters; New Zealand is a fantastic example.

New Zealand is a leading light in wine industry sustainability. The country’s wineries first made sustainable wine headlines when they announced their ambitious plan to be net carbon zero by 2050. New Zealand was also the first to develop a nation-wide sustainability certification programme: Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand™ (SWNZ). Today, a whopping 96% of New Zealand’s vineyard area is SWNZ certified.

New Zealand is a leading light in wine industry sustainability with ambitious plans to reach net carbon zero by 2050.

At the producer level, sustainability means crafting quality wine, in an economically viable and socially responsible manner, while protecting the environment for future generations. Organic and/or biodynamics comes into play when we consider this third, environmental pillar of sustainability.

Organic viticulture starts with the elimination of all synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. The organic conversion process takes three years for producers seeking certified organic status. Organic wine from New Zealand is championed by grower-led organization, Organic Winegrowers New Zealand (OWNZ).  

“Organic producers are careful co-creators with nature,” explains the OWNZ. “We build healthy vines by building healthy soils, and by nurturing a diverse, rich community of plants, soil, insects, and microorganisms”.

Photo credit: Felton Road, cover crops

To date, a little over ten percent of New Zealand’s wine producers hold organic certifications, mainly from the country’s largest organic certifier, BioGro. This may not seem like a significant figure now, but the demand for organic wine from New Zealand is rising steadily, driving more and more producers to convert.

The demand for organic wine from New Zealand is rising steadily, driving more and more producers to convert.

“Since 2018, there has been a big surge in organic wine from New Zealand ” affirms Jared White, Audit Manager and wine industry liaison for BioGro. “Of the 2,418 hectares currently farmed organically, 18% are currently in conversion”. While most organic producers have smaller vineyard holdings than the national average, major producers like Pernod Ricard New Zealand, Yealands, and Villa Maria are making increasing organic inroads.

Villa Maria has converted over 100 hectares of their company-owned vineyards to organic winemaking. They aim to be entirely organic by 2030. “We are motivated to further enhance the health of our soils and environment so we can reap the rewards of beautiful fruit for years to come” explained Villa Maria’s viticulturalist, Hannah Ternent, in the The Drinks Business.

But what does organic wine production look like in practice? In the Central Otago, where an impressive 25% of vineyards are farmed organically, top wineries are keen to share their wisdom. From precise canopy management, to carefully selected cover crops, to organic composts made from winery waste, the team at Felton Road employs a wide variety of techniques to boost vine and soil health. They also limit their water usage by using mulches and monitoring soil moisture levels.

In the Central Otago, an impressive 25% of vineyards are farmed organically.

Organic production does not stop at the winery doors. In organic certifications, winery additives like cultured yeasts and sulphur are carefully controlled, and genetically modified organisms are prohibited. Using only native yeasts and minimal sulphur is a point of pride for many organic producers. Marlborough-based estate, Seresin, feels that their organic vineyard cultivation, and low interventionist winemaking, are integral factors making their wines “uniquely expressive of their origins and their vintages”.

Photo credit: Seresin Estate, compost preparation

Of course, New Zealand is far from the only wine-producing country with a growing commitment to organic wine. When asked what sets them apart, BioGro’s Jared White was quick to reply. “There is a lot of support and information sharing here. OWNZ also offers a mentoring program, and they do in-depth research, providing a wealth of data for growers”.

One such research project was an organic conversion study, following selected vineyards through the process in three growing areas (Marlborough, Central Otago, and Hawkes Bay). OWNZ undertook regular soils analyses and pest and disease monitoring, among many other parameters measured. The findings from these projects are invaluable tools for new producers looking to embark on the process.

Continuous improvement, a central tenet in sustainability circles, is also at the heart of the organic wine movement in New Zealand.

Continuous improvement, a central tenet in sustainability circles, is also at the heart of the organic wine movement in New Zealand. A requirement to demonstrate biodiversity enhancement – currently only enforced in Canadian organic standards – is in the works.

The sector is also moving towards national regulations. This will allow producers to access equivalency arrangements with organic wine programmes abroad. At present, organic wine from New Zealand must meet organic regulations in the country of export.

Here in Canada, if an organic wine from New Zealand, certified by BioGro, doesn’t also satisfy the guidelines set out by the Canada Organic Regime, they cannot market their wines as organic.

Seeking out organic wine from New Zealand is worth the effort though. The environmental benefits are numerous and, according to Villa Maria’s Hannah Ternent, there is another advantage. “Wines made from organically grown grapes have more intense flavours… you can taste the care put into the soil, the careful handling of the fruit, and the respect for our relationship with the land”.

Looking for organic wine from New Zealand, available in Canada? Here is a list of OWNZ accredited members with wines regularly available across the country:

Fully Organic (producing all/most of their wines solely from organic or biodynamic grapes)

Carrick, Churton, Clos Henri, Dog Point Vineyard, Felton Road, Quartz Reef, Rippon, Seresin, Supernatural Wine Co., Two Paddocks, Burn Cottage Vineyard, Neudorf Vineyards, Pyramid Valley, Te Mania

Partly Organic (producing some wines from organic or biodynamic grapes and/or vineyards in conversion)

Amisfield, Babich, Giesen, Loveblock, Pernod Ricard New Zealand, Villa Maria, Wither Hills, Yealands

*** This Organic Wine from New Zealand article was originally written for Good Food Revolution. Want to learn more about artisanal food, wine, beer and spirits.? Check out their excellent website. ***

As part of their organic wine week, I was sent a small selection of organic wines from New Zealand to sample (and a tasty treat 😉). Sadly one bottle was out of condition, but reviews for the others are given below.

Pyramid Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2019, Marlborough – 93pts. PW

Sourced from biodynamic vineyards in Marlborough’s Waihopai and Omaka Valleys. Vinified in large neutral oak casks with native yeasts. Aged for six months on its fine lees.

Attractive lime, gooseberry aromas are underscored by white floral and peppery hints on the nose. The palate is electric; a vibrant yet balanced display of racy acidity, lithe, taut structure, and tangy green fruit that linger on the long, peppery finish. Very elegant, harmonious Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

Where to Buy: Inquire with winery

Milton “Te Arai Vineyard” Chenin Blanc 2019, Gisbourne – 90pts. PW

Estate Chenin Blanc produced in organic and biodynamic certified vineyards. Fermented and matured in a mix of large neutral oak casks and stainless steel tasks, on its fine lees.

Heady aromas of yellow plum, lemon, and raw honey feature on the nose. The palate is fresh, broad, and rounded, with excellent depth of juicy yellow fruit tapering to honeyed nuances. Slightly off-dry on the finish, well-balanced by lively acidity and intriguing spiced notes.

Where to Buy: Inquire with winery

Te Whare Ra (TWR) “Toru” 2020, Marlborough – 91pts. PW

A field blend of mainly Gewürztraminer, with Riesling, and Pinot Gris grown in certified organic vineyards, many of which are also biodynamically farmed. The grapes are handpicked, with some parcels seeing extended skin contact before co-fermenting at low temperatures in neutral vessels. No fining or filtering.

Highly aromatic, with notes of white grapefruit, jasmine, lychee, and exotic spice fairly leaping from the glass. The palate is medium in body, with bright citrus and off-dry tropical fruit flavours. A rounded, textural mouthfeel gives way to refreshing hints of bitterness on the finish.

Where to Buy: Inquire with winery.

Felton Road Pinot Noir “Calvert” 2019, Central Otago – 94pts. LW

Estate, biodynamic Pinot Noir from the Bannockburn sub-region of Central Otago. Vinified in a gravity flow cellar, with 25% whole clusters, and a long pre-fementary cold soak to preserve and enhance delicate aromas. Aged 16 months in 30% new French oak barrels.

Perfumed nose featuring dark cherry and berry fruit, heightened by floral notes and subtle oak spice. On the palate, brisk acidity lifts the ample, fleshy frame and provides thrilling definition to the dense core of ripe, black and blue fruit. Finishes with velvety tannins, nuances of cigar box and spice.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($84.75), LCBO ($95.00; 2018 vintage)

Producers Reviews Wines

Gérard Bertrand Wines & Sizest Stereotypes in Sustainable Wine

Gerard Bertrand Wines
Photo credit: Gérard Bertrand Wines

A couple of months back, I had the pleasure of (virtually) attending a tasting of Gérard Bertrand wines. This flourishing southern French winery possesses a multitude of certifications.  These cover everything from organic conversion, to organics, biodynamics, suitable for vegans, bee-friendly, and no added sulfites.

Listening to Bertrand and his team detail their organic and biodynamic winemaking commitments, I got to thinking. A wealth of misinformation and misunderstanding exists around the concept of sustainable wine.

The Myths & Misrepresentation around Eco-Conscience Wine

Many wine drinkers simply assume that wine, as an agricultural product, is made in an “earth friendly” manner. The notion of chemical herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides sprayed repeatedly on vines during the growing season just doesn’t register. The carbon footprint of winery processes, bottling, packaging, and shipping isn’t considered.

Still other wine enthusiasts draw a black and white line between what they perceive as  “conventional” and “natural” in wine production. For these dogmatists, small is beautiful, big is bad. All medium to large scale wineries producing high volume brands, are lumped into the conventional category. And there is a tacit implication that these mass-producing wineries are all rampant polluters.

Mom & pop wineries, tending their vines by hand, may seem the most worthy model for eco-conscience wine consumers. However, they aren’t always a feasible route to sustainable wine consumption. Firstly, because they don’t produce enough wine for widespread distribution. This means that most wine lovers can’t access them. Secondly, as they lack the economies of scale to produce affordable wines for low to middle income consumers, while themselves remaining profitable.

Big Wineries Making Big Strides for Sustainable Wine

So long as the demand for wine remains high globally, larger wineries are necessary. With that in mind, those making significant efforts to farm in a sustainable manner, and to offset carbon emissions, should be encouraged, not dismissed for their size.

As these larger players embrace change, they force more sluggish competitors to keep up. Just look at the actions of two powerhouse wineries, Familia Torres and Jackson Family Wines. Their efforts to address and redress the impacts of climate change in wine production are laudable. Eco-conscience, high volume companies such as these also do valuable work educating consumers on sustainable wine.

At just over two million bottles produced annually, Gérard Bertrand is hardly a wine-producing giant. And yet, with their numerous branded labels, they would surely be pegged as conventional by many a purist. To me, this is an unfortunate oversimplification.

The Organic Engagement Behind Gérard Bertrand Wines

The engagement shown by Gérard Bertrand wines, in terms of organic, biodynamic, and sustainable practices, can hardly be dismissed as a marketing ploy. The winery has employed organic farming methods for over twenty years. This is well before organic food production captured mainstream attention. What’s more, they have gone the additional step of certifying their practices.

Organic and biodynamic certifications like Agriculture Biologique (AB) and Demeter necessitate a long conversion process, regular audits, and mountains of fastidious paperwork. They oblige adherents to apply their strict rules of adhesion to the letter.

At present, Gérard Bertrand has an impressive 880 hectares of vineyards certified biodynamic or organic, undergoing biodynamic conversion. Bértrand is thus one of the largest organic and biodynamic vineyard owners world-wide. The winery also actively supports their grower partners in the organic transition process.

A Presentation & Tasting of Gérard Bertrand Wines 

Over the course of a morning, Bertrand presented no less than eight different ranges of Gérard Bertrand wines. Each brand/estate espouses one or several facets of sustainable wine production.

Change Sauvignon Blanc, IGP Pays d’Oc 2020 – 87pts. VW

Gérard Bertrand’s Change brand is dedicated to supporting its grower partners in the conversion to organic viticulture. The transition period lasts three years, in which producers must adhere to organic viticultural regulations in readiness for certification. The Change wines are certified Conversion Agriculture Biologique (CAB).

The Change Sauvignon Blanc is a pleasant, every day aromatic white wine with notes of white grapefruit, and chamomile on the nose. The palate is crisp and light bodied, with a dry, citrussy finish.

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent (Southern Glazer’s)

Naturae Chardonnay, IGP Pays d’Oc 2020 – 88pts. VW

The Naturae range has no added sulphites. In order to produce clean, consistent quality, the grapes are carefully sorted and winery hygiene protocols are meticulously followed. Naturae wines are certified organic and suitable for vegans.

Intense notes of poached pear and apricot feature on the nose. The palate is fresh, medium bodied, and easy drinking, with its smooth texture and lively yellow fruit flavours. Hints of refreshing bitterness frame the finish.

Where to Buy: SAQ ($18.70)

Cigalus Blanc, IGP Aude Hauterive 2019 – 90pts. PW

The IGP Aude Hauterive is nestled between the southern Massif Central and the Pyrenees. These valley vineyards follow the Aude river and neighbour the Corbières AOC.  Gérard Bertrand wines started their ambitious biodynamic vineyard project here, back in 2002.

The Cigalus white is a Demeter-certified biodynamic white wine blend of Chardonnay, Viognier, and Sauvignon Blanc. Fermented and aged mainly in French oak, this is a bold, perfumed white with acacia, honey, yellow peach, and toasty oak nuances on the nose. The palate is creamy and textural, with a concentrated core of yellow fruit and vanilla spice. Needs time for the oak flavours to integrate further.

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent (Southern Glazer’s)

Source of Joy Rosé, Languedoc AOP 2020 – 89pts. PW

Source of Joy is a new entrant in the line up of Gérard Bertrand wines. It is named for a network of natural water sources coursing under the hilly, schist and limestone vineyards that produce this organic Grenache, Syrah, and Cinsault blend. This “gastronomic rosé” is made with the saignée method, with no malolactic fermentation (to retain freshness), and partial oak ageing.

Pretty pale pink in colour with a mix of ripe and candied red berry aromas, underscored by hints of vanilla. The palate has a tangy, red fruit driven appeal and an ample, rounded structure. The finish is dry and moderately persistent, with a touch of refreshing bitterness.

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent (Southern Glazer’s)

Clos du Temple Rosé, Languedoc Cabrières AOP 2019 – 91pts. LW

Clos du Temple is sourced from eight hectares of old vine Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Viognier vineyards in the schist-based Languedoc Cabrières terroir. This is Gérard Bertrand wines’ ultra-premium, Demeter-certified biodynamic rosé, retailing for well over $200 (CAD).

Pale cream rose in colour, with delicate aromas of star anise, fresh herbs, red apple, and stone fruits. The palate is full-bodied and voluptuous, with marked toasty oak and exotic spice flavours overlaying hints of peaches and cream. Moderately firm, almost peppery tannins frame the long finish. Highly complex, but overshadowed by the oak at present. Needs 12 – 18 months’ cellaring to harmonize.

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent (Southern Glazer’s)

Orange Gold, Vin de France 2020 – 92pts. VW

This organic, orange wine is another new addition for Gérard Bertrand wines. It is made from whole bunch vinification of Chardonnay, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Marsanne, Mauzac, and Muscat grapes. According to Bertrand, the goal is to create a “structured, rather than tannic white wine, with balanced bitterness”.  For me, this objective was achieved.

Pale amber in colour, with attractive baked apple, clementine peel, and dried floral notes. The palate is fresh, broad, and easy drinking with moderate concentration of earthy, savoury nuances, and an appealing hint of bitter citrus peel on the finish. This is a fantastic introductory wine for orange wine novices.

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent (Southern Glazer’s)

Change Merlot IGP Pays d’Oc, 2019 – 86pts. VW

This red wine offering from the organic conversion range, Change, has marked herbal flavours underscored by hints of red and black fruits. The palate is medium in body, with a firm, somewhat rustic character and peppery finish.

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent (Southern Glazer’s)

Pollinat’ Syrah, IGP Cévennes 2019 – 88pts. VW

The Pollinat’ label reflects Gérard Bertrand wines’ commitment to protect bees and other pollinators in the Cévennes region of Southern France. The wine is certified organic and “Bee Friendly”.

Deep purple in colour, with ripe black berry, violet, and green peppercorn aromas on the nose. The palate is fresh, medium in body, and moderately firm with fairly chewy tannins.

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent (Southern Glazer’s)

Naturae Cabernet Sauvignon, IGP Pays d’Oc 2019 – 87pts. VW

The Naturae Cabernet Sauvignon has no added sulphites, is certified organic, and suitable for vegans. This medium bodied red has smoky, meaty nuances on the nose, mingled with sweet black fruit. The palate is fresh and very firm, with tightly wound tannins. Decant an hour before serving.

Where to Buy: Inquire with agent (Southern Glazer’s)

Cigalus Rouge, IGP Aude Hauterive 2019 – 92pts. PW

The biodynamic Cigalus red wine is a blend of Syrah, Merlot, Caladoc, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mourvèdre, and Carignan. Its bold character is an able reflection of the region’s sundrenched Mediterranean climate. The Syrah and Carignan are whole-bunch vinified, while all other varieties are destemmed. Ageing takes place in 100% new French barrels for just over one year.

Dark and brooding, with intense aromas and flavours of sweet blue and black fruit, cigar box, cloves, black pepper, dark chocolate, and violets . The palate is firm and highly concentrated with notable, yet well-integrated, cedar oak nuances. Finishes long and pleasantly warming. Excellent ageing potential; 10 years+.

Clos d’Ora, Minervois la Livinière AOP 2017 – 94pts. LW

Clos d’Ora is perhaps the crowning jewel of Gérard Bertrand wines. This walled, nine hectare biodynamic vineyard sits at an altitude of 220 metres, on a mix of chalk, sandstone, and marl soils. Vineyard work is entirely manual, using horse-drawn ploughs. The vineyards are certified biodynamic.

The Grenache, Carignan, Syrah, and Mourvèdre grapes destined for Clos d’Ora are vinified separately in concrete, and then aged one year in new French barrels and an additional year in bottle.

This is an incredibly dense, powerful red wine with fragrant aromas of cassis, black cherry, and plum, underscored by black olive, dark licorice, and dried provençal herbs. The palate is tightly woven, with spicy oak and ripe dark fruit flavours on the concentrated core. The tannins are bold, yet velvety; lingering on the persistent finish. Decant at least one to two hours before serving, chill slightly, and serve with a great big steak.

 (What do VW, PW and LW mean?  Click on my wine scoring system to decode the scores for Gérard Bertrand wines).