Category Archives: Wine Terminology

A useful starting place for those wanting to broaden their wine knowledge and gain a greater insight into the various aspects of wine production, wine types and the many factors that go into the production of wine.

Organic Wines

Organic WinesCertified organic (CO) and practicing organic (PO) wine is produced from grapes grown in accordance with principles of organic farming, which typically excludes the use of artificial chemical fertilisers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides.

The process is audited by the recognised body in the wine producing country of origin, according to strict regulations and viticultural practices which allows the term ‘organic wine’ to be used on the wine label. In essence the concept is a return to old-fashioned, less intensive agricultural practices; however, it is only since the 2012 vintage that there has been a definition of ‘organic’ wine within the EU.

In organic wine production the vines are cultivated in vineyards where the environment is respected and biodiversity is encouraged. The use of artificial pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and fertilisers is strictly prohibited; though certain fertilisers (typically derived from animal or vegetable matter) are allowed.

By adopting an organic approach to viticulture the vines are encouraged to draw essential minerals from the soil and so develop a better resistance to disease negating the need to use artificial interventions. Weed control is carried out by ploughing (horse’s are frequently used in this process) or by growing cover crops. The cover crops act in turn as hosts for beneficial natural predators (ladybirds for example) and provide an ecological form of pest control.

The process of converting a vineyard to certified organic takes three years. Any non-organic treatments are strictly forbidden and the growers can be inspected at anytime without warning. The use of any synthetic and chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides would mean the estate would have to begin the whole process again. Certification of organic wine is run by the relevant country’s examining bodies. In France for example certification is provided by ‘Ecocert’.

In addition to organic practices in the vineyard there are also restrictions with the winemaking process too, including a reduced use of sulphur dioxide.

It is worth noting that there are many wine-growers who elect to farm organically (or biodynamically) but who have no desire to seek certification or accreditation for their efforts and as such are seen as practicing organic (PO). Their reasons for converting from conventional practices are generally for health and sustainability issues and not marketing inspired. Therefore, whilst their wines are organic in the true sense of the word, they are not allowed to market their wines as ‘Certified Organic’.

Finally, there is another winemaking discipline which in French is called ‘la lutte raisonnée’. It is becoming increasingly popular in viticulture parlance but there are cynics who are wary of this practice as it is a rather grey area of organic and sustainable winemaking philosophy. Essentially growers adopting this regime have stopped treating systemically and essentially follow organic disciplines, but they reserve the right to treat the vines if faced with a particular problem. At its best this is just a common sense decision to farm as safely as possible, adopting organic and often experimenting with biodynamic viticulture, but remaining free of dogma. It can however, from the cynics’ perspectives, be seen as a rather cosy way of allowing the grower to do whatever he likes.

Hic! is pleased to support a number of outstanding wine producers in their efforts and offer for sale an excellent range of organic wines in the online wine shop.

Biodynamic Wines

Biodynamic Wines 3

Biodynamic wine production is an approach to winemaking based upon the work of Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner. In addition to organic practices such as the exclusion of chemical or synthetic herbicides, fertilisers and pesticides, biodynamic farmers rely upon special plant, animal and mineral preparations to enhance the health of their soil and vines. Utilising the Stella Natura Biodynamic agricultural calendar, biodynamic farmers also consider the positioning and rhythmic influences of the sun, moon, planets and stars as guides for when to prune their vines, plant new vines or pick the fruit.

For winemakers the key principle of biodynamic wine production is totally logical. It makes no sense to extol the virtues on the geology of a vineyard, the unique aspects of its soil (its ‘terroir’) and what that imparts to the wine, if that soil is then totally transformed by a mixture of chemicals, herbicides and fertilisers. Healthy soil dictates healthy vines and experience has shown that biodynamic practices give rise to greater purity and precision in the resulting wines.

Steiner’s biodynamic disciplines date back to the early 1920’s, (twenty years before the organic movement) and followed the notion that in harnessing the metaphysical, the physical is improved. In his approach to agriculture, Steiner believed that the health of the soil, plants and animals depends on reconnecting nature with the creative forces of the cosmos. The practical methods he outlined were intended to be adopted by farmers and winemakers alike with the intention to revitalise the natural forces that were rapidly becoming depleted through modern agricultural techniques.

Beginning with a healthy living soil, often enhanced by judicious quantities of biodynamic, naturally-occurring preparations, Steiner felt that it was also important to recognise the role of the rhythms of light from planets, sun, moon and stars. Understanding this aspect allows for optimal timings in viticultural activity and thus it follows that, if the winemaker is tuned into their needs, the vines and soil will respond better.

Steiner’s concept is not that difficult to grasp, after all, we know about lunar cycles, tidal flow and seasonality, so have already accepted certain, very obvious aspects of these life forces without question.

Undertaking a biodynamic approach is far from an easy option and the problem for many winemakers is that in order to produce wine biodynamically, the adoption of its principles has to be wholesale, with no holds barred. Following the rhythms of earth and space is taxing and even very diligent organic farmers are wary of the extreme measures required to conform fully to the disciplines which are considered by many to be too expensive.

Thankfully, more and more winemakers are experimenting in biodynamic principles and gradually adopting what, ultimately, is a life changing way of working. Whilst the initial aim may have been the long term sustainability of the land and the health of themselves and their co-workers, the results of their endeavours has witnessed an intense and more honest expression of terroir.

Hic! has a range of biodynamic wines from some of the world’s finest producers available to buy at the online wine shop.

Vegan and Vegetarian Wines

Vegan Vegetarian BannerFor those who adopt a Vegetarian or Veganism lifestyle, choosing a bottle of wine as your preferred liquid refreshment may not be as straightforward as one would think. Whilst wine label information is slowly becoming more informative and regulations dictate certain details must now be disclosed, there are still aspects of a wines history missing from wine labels that could aid consumers further in their decision making process, especially those with a vegan or vegetarian philosophy.

HOW DO YOU KNOW IF A WINE IS VEGAN OR VEGETARIAN?

Many would believe that a wine labelled as ‘organic’ or ‘biodynamic’ would be a good starting point, but this winemaking process has no bearing on whether the wine will be suitable for vegetarians or vegans. What is important is how the wine is treated or finished in the final stages of production and it is this which can create a potential moral hazard!

Most winemakers choose to clarify and stabilise their wines before bottling by using a practice known as fining. There are good reasons to do this not least because fining a wine not only makes the wine look clear, but it also lowers the risk that the wine will take on unwanted flavours or aromas in the bottle before it is opened.

In order to ascertain if a wine is suitable for a vegetarian or vegan you need to know how the wine is ‘fined’. The substances used by winemakers for fining can be derived from many sources, some of which are animal based.

For example gelatine (protein from animal bones and cartilage), isinglass (swim bladders from fish) are certainly not suitable for vegetarians or vegans. Other fining agents such as Casein (milk protein) and albumen (egg whites) would be considered acceptable fining agents for vegetarians but would still be unacceptable for strict vegans.

Thankfully, for vegans there are non-animal alternatives that do exist and which are used by winemakers all over the world. Some of these include bentonite (impure clay), kieselguhr (sedimentary rock), kaolin (clay mineral) and silica gel. In addition there are winemakers who choose not to fine their wines at all, those who choose to filter only and those that choose to neither ‘fine’ nor ‘filter’ and often declare their wine ‘unfiltered’.

It is worth noting that none of the fining agents actually remain in the wine at all after clarification, but the fact that they have had contact with the liquid is an important consideration for some people.

IF A WINE IS FINED WITH THE FOLLOWING, IT IS SUITABLE FOR VEGETARIANS AND VEGANS:

  • Bentonite (clay base)
  • Kieselghur
  • Kaolin
  • PVPP (polyvinylpolypyrolidone)
  • Use of tangential filter
  • No fining

IF A WINE IS FINED WITH THE FOLLOWING, IT IS SUITABLE FOR VEGETARIANS BUT NOT FOR VEGANS:

  • Casein (milk)
  • Albumen (eggs)

IF A WINE IS FINED WITH THE FOLLOWING, IT IS NOT SUITABLE FOR VEGETARIANS OR VEGANS:

  • Gelatine (protein from animal bones / cartilage)
  • Isinglass (fish swim bladders)

A wide range of wines and sparkling wines suitable for both Vegans and Vegetarians are available to buy online by the bottle, case or as part of a mixed case from the Hic! wine shop.