Conventional versus Organic Winemaking
In the cellar, ‘organic’ suggests minimal processing and no use of chemical additives. Organic winemakers pay particular attention to three factors: the use of yeasts, filtration/fining methods and use of sulphur. The need for cultured yeasts in organic winemaking is reduced by the farming practice itself, for wild yeasts remain present, not having been eliminated by weed killers or insecticides. The physical treatment of the wine is kept to a minimum by selectively hand-picking and tender handling of fruit.
Minimising the use of sulphur needed as an antioxidant is stringently observed. It is extremely difficult to make wine that will keep well without adding at least some additional sulphur to those naturally produced. This is particularly true of white wines, which ferment apart from grape skins. Red wines ferment with juice and skins together, providing them not only with their colour but with tannin, a natural preservative.
Conventional Wines compared to Organic Wines
Settlers Ridge Wines compare favourably with conventional wines, as defined by peer group granted awards, thus acknowledging our focus on quality. Our awards, achieved in international and domestic open competitions against conventional wines (since our first vintage in 1997), attest to our focus on quality. Settlers Ridge choose the quality of our wine as a benchmark, our organic credentials providing consumers with true value adding.
Is there such a thing as sulphur-free grapes?
An organic wine is first and foremost a wine made out of grapes that were grown organically.
Organic wines are produced using organically grown grapes. No pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, chemical fertilisers or synthetic chemicals of any kind are allowed on the vines or in the soil. Strict rules govern the winemaking process and storage conditions of all imported and domestic wines that acquire certification. Moreover, organic winemakers often avoid many of the chemical substances used to stabilise conventional wines. There is no such thing as sulphur-free grapes. Sulphur-free wines do not exist, but wines low in sulphur or free from added sulphur do. Sulphur is a natural by-product of the fermentation process. Fermenting yeasts present on all grape skins generate naturally occurring sulphur in amounts ranging from 6 ppm to 40 ppm (parts per million).
What about added sulphur?
Although technical advances permit the industry to add much less sulphur, most serious winemakers and ecology professors concur that to make a consistently stable wine, sulphur must be added to those naturally present but their use can be minimised by careful hand-picking, small basket pressing and allowing natural yeasts to preserve. Sulphur agents, when properly handled, are not intrinsically toxic to humans or the environment and many feel they are essential in order to prevent oxidation or bacterial spoilage. Settlers Ridge add small amounts of SO2 in its natural, gaseous form to wines, rather than the powdered Potassium Metabisulphate (PMS), a salt which is widely used in conventional winemaking and contains unacceptable levels of lead and arsenic. Although under all organic standards PMS can be used, Settlers Ridge has never used it. Theres a good chance that if grapes have been machine harvested PMS has been used.
In Australia, conventional wines can contain up to 400 ppm sulphide. International and national organic winemaking standards limit the use of sulphur to a total of 90 ppm in red wines and 100 ppm in white and sparkling wines. Settlers Ridge wines contain on average 30ppm.
What is Organic Wine?
ORGANIC wine is currently available in two forms, the first being wine PRODUCED from organic grapes and the second is wine which not only contains organic grapes but which is also PROCESSED using organic methods (i.e. the vats are washed without chemicals). International and national standards vary to minor degrees in respect of definition of organic PRODUCTION, however vary to significant degrees in terms of wine PROCESSING.However in all cases, for a vineyard to be certified as organic, the owner must be able to prove which vineyard the grapes came from, which officially recognised body certified the vineyard as organic and from what date certified organic practices began. The fundamental idea behind organic wines is that making wines from grapes grown without chemical fertilisers, weed killers, insecticides and other synthetic chemicals is better both for the planet and the wine drinker because all of these damage the soil, the plant, the planet and the consumer.
Who is at risk with regards to sulphur?
About 0.4% of the population is considered highly allergic to sulphur. According to Dr Vincent Marinkovich, an allergist and clinical immunologist who has extensively researched SO2, sulphur poses no danger to 99.75% of the population, the highest risk group are asthmatics (about 10% of the population) and only a small percentage of this group are allergic to sulphur. Concern for chemicals used in food and beverage production should be of more concern to asthmatics and people with cancer or at high risk.
Many people, however, have little tolerance for sulphur. Even for moderate wine drinkers, the average level of sulphur found in many commercial wines can cause side effects. Unpleasant reactions include migraines, hives, cramps and skin flushes. For them, organic wines are an especially good choice as they contain minimal amounts of sulphur.
Why do winemakers add sulphur to wines?
Sulphur has been used as a preservative in winemaking for a thousand years. To prevent wine spoilage, European winemakers pioneered the use of sulphur dioxide (SO2). Unfortunately, freshly pressed grape juice has a tendency to spoil due to contamination from bacteria and wild yeasts present on the grape skins. Not only does SO2 inhibit the growth of moulds and bacteria, it also stops oxidation and preserves the wine’s natural flavour and colour.