Thursday, 10 June 2010

Organic Wine from Genetically Modified Vines?


At the moment, producing organic wine from genetically modified vines or grapes is not permitted, nor is it desired, and is presumably in the long run unthinkable.

In the remote future, it might be possible to dispense with chemical fungicides in conventional viniculture, fungicides which can cause cancer or are suspected of causing cancer. Even copper sulfate, which acts externally and is used in organic winegrowing, is harmful to the soil and thus the ground water as well.

The Chinese researcher Yuejin Wang, who works at the Yanling Forestry University (source: New Scientist) discovered that a wild Chinese vine contains 6 times more resveratrol than conventional grapes. Resveratrol not only made headlines recently as the key to a long life with its anticarcinogenic and cardioprotective effects, it also protects many plants, vines as well, against dreaded fungus and mildew such as powdery mildew and downy mildew (Oidium and Peronospora). However the amounts present in most varietals are not sufficient to protect them permanently against fungus.

By isolating the Vitus pseudoreticulata gene, which is the reason for the high resveratrol content, in the wild grapevine, and by transferring this to "normal" grapevines (vitis vinifera), it might be possible in the future to plant genetically modified vines in conventional and in organic viniculture which initially seems to provide a lot of advantages: fewer chemicals in viniculture, less environmental pollution, a higher resveratrol content in red wine particularly which would increase the positive effects on health in every respect. However, the consequences of genetically modified agricultural production have not yet been studied as a whole.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Organic Wine Guidelines


Up to now, the European Union has failed to establish rules for producing organic wine. As a result, the term "organic wine" is tolerated but has not yet been defined by law. The reason for the delay in dealing with this in national and EU bodies could be the differing concerns of the wine-growing districts in Northern and Southern Europe, and the different goals of the market participants.

The consumers' wish to purchase organic wines which are not only tasty but also clean, residue-free, manipulated as little as possible, lightly sulfurized and not otherwise preserved or stabilized can as a rule be fulfilled more easily by the wine producers in Southern Europe, whose wines have more color, alcohol, tannins and resveratrol, which contribute to a longer shelf life. A further advantage is their climate, which is generally not as unsettled and is drier, meaning that the grapes are less affected by fungus and decay. They require a much lower sulfur content that do those of their neighbors to the north.

Due to the climatic influences, wines produced in Northern Europe have to contain more sulfur and have to be fined and stabilized additionally, according to experts. Consequently, they demand that a higher sulfur content be allowed in organic wine. There are however other contentious issues as well, such as mash heating for a better color, the use of selected yeasts and aroma yeasts as well as the use of further additives.

There is a third lobby, consisting of large import companies and bottling plants, whose goal is to purchase at the lowest price and the lowest level of quality. The producers of such wines may observe the winegrowing guidelines officially, but they can no longer consider the ethical, moral, social and qualitative aspects. These wines are for the most part transported in tank trucks to bottling plants in Northern Europe. The dubious quality of these wines is decreased additionally by the transport (frequent repumping, contact with air) and if financial risks are to avoided they can only be put on the market after additional sulfurization, stabilization and preservation.

Thus it is foreseeable that the outcome of the EU guidelines for organic wine will also be an unsatisfactory compromise. Anyone who is concerned about what pesticides are being used in the vineyard and what is being manipulated in the wine cellar will be determined to buy estate grown and bottled wine from good vintners and not wine bottled by anonymous merchants.