By Lynne Coyle, Master of Wine | O'Briens Wine Director
As with their food, wine drinkers in Ireland are becoming more aware of making choices that minimise their impact on the environment. We are seeing a big increase in demand for organic, sustainable and vegan wines.
It can be intimidating for customers to understand all these terms and see why they apply to wines. For example, if wines are made from grapes why are they not all vegan? To answer some of our loyal customers' most frequent questions we have released our Wine Certification Guide which is also available in stores.
There are a plethora of choices facing our wine estates when it comes to deciding how to farm their vineyards. Many, like ourselves, are family businesses and we expect them to be committed to working as environmentally as possible.
Factors that affect their farming philosophy are many but local climate conditions are a key consideration. For example in cooler or wetter locations, opting to farm 100% organically is more difficult, as the damp conditions can allow fungus to grow on the leaves and developing grapes.
Here we take a look at the different sustaniable options available....
The O'Briens Wine Organic Logo
Global wine regulation states that organic viticulture must look to maintain and protect ecosystems, soft fertility, natural resources, increase biodiversity and promote ecological cycles. The winemakers we choose to work in harmony with uphold these standards and practices. Organic growers are now eschewing the use of chemical interventions in favour of using more traditional methods of farming and organic products. The use of genetically modified products is forbidden.
Organic growing carries out weed management between the vines by carrying out manual ploughing, or the use of wild flower cover crops which help to retain moisture and prevent soil erosion. Incorporating flowering plants into vineyards attracts beneficial insect predators and birds, which help to naturally control the population of pests that could otherwise damage the vines and spread disease.
Our organic range is subject to the same rigorous selection criteria as the rest of our portfolio; to offer delicious drinkability, great value for money, and to authentically reflect the grape and their growing location.
Vines that are grown via organic practices often develop a natural immunity to local stresses, such as drought, disease pressures and pest damage.
Search for our organic symbol in store and online when looking for your perfect organic wine.
Biodynamic farming goes a step beyond organic priciples and encourages a more holistic approach to farming that incorporates soil health, biodiversity, and the use of homeopathic plant perparations to help support vine health and vigour.
The principles of of Biodynamics is attributed to the Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner, following a series of lectures he held in the 1920’s. Steiner was a pioneering philsopher and was one of the first public figures to warn about the widespread use of chemical fetilizers and negative their impact on soil fertility, and plant and animal health.
Steiner was a key figure in introducing the concept of a farm as a single, self-suistaining organism that thrives on biodiversity, integration of crops, livestock and the creation of a closed-loop system of soil fertility.
Demeter Biodynamic Logo
Biodiversity and Wine
Vineyard biodiversity programs are important for the health and preservation of its ecosystem, pollination, biological pest control, maintenance of soil structure and fertility, nutrient cycling and hydrological processes. Improving vineyard biodiversity is the basis for sustainable farming thus minimising the need for the use of harmful chemicals.
Sustainability and Wine
Sustainable practices are bound to environmental responsibility. Sustainable practices seek to keep and improve the balance within eco-systems for humans, animals, plants, insects, and micro-organisms. Starting in the vineyard, the protection of soil, air, and water resources are paramount and within the winery, energy and resource conservation such as water are the norm.
Suistainablity allows winemakers to use chemical controls when required, including synthetic products (forbidden for the organic grape growers). This is as long as they are minimising the negative impact on the environment, vineyard workers and ensure the use of the least harmful products and in small doses.
Synthetic spraying is not prohibited for sustainable growers, however it is vital that winemakers limit the number of times they spray during the season and other methods such as vine training, thinning the canopy, and creating vineyards that are encourage beneficial insects and animals, such as bats and predatory birds.
Search for our suistainable symbol in store and online when lookng for your perfect suistainable wine.
The O'Briens Wine Suistainable Logo
Beehive at a vineyard
Bees and Wine
Bees are the primary pollinators of several plants and cover crops planted in the vineyard. Cover crops in vineyards help to regulate the level of nitrogen in the vineyard, increase the organic content of the soil, help improve the water-holding capacity of the soil, reduce the need for chemical use, and regulate vine growth.
Using cover crops in the vineyard and consequently, bees, create a healthier ecosystem for vines that then produce better healthier grapes. Grape vines can self-fertilize, they don’t need bees to make grapes. The plants around the grape vines, however, do need bees, and those other plants create a healthier environment for the vines.
Bee Friendly is a European certification label that aims to identify and promote farming practices respectful to pollinators. Certification requires the installation of beehives, prohibits the use of harmful sprays, requires monitoring of the bee’s activity to keep a check on the environmental health of the vineyards and facilities a dialogue between wine owners and beekeepers.
Certification – Bee friendly logo
No Sulphur Added Wine
Sulphites are used to protect a wine from oxidation, its use in winemaking can be traced back to ancient Rome. Because all wines naturally produce Sulphur during the fermentation process, wines naturally contain small quantities of Sulphur. With healthy grapes and specific cellar techniques, winemakers can make wine without adding sulphites.
Making no-sulphur wine requires constant attention from wine makers, when the results are successful, the wine is pure, authentic and fruit-forward. The grape variety and terroir are clearly expressed, however the wine is less well protected. When enjoying sulphur free wine at its best, it should be stored carefully, preferably in a cool place (around 16-18° C). When transporting sulphite free wine, care should be taken to avoid extreme temperatures and the wine should be left to rest a little before opening.
Label statement sometimes abbreviated to NAS
Sulphite free Logo
The O'Briens Wine Vegan Logo
Vegetarian & Vegan Wines
The vegan lifestyle is where somebody avoids all animal exploitation of any kind, for example purchasing leather items. With veganism on the rise there is more demand for ethical and sustainable wines than ever before.
Wine is usually filtered to improve clarity, aroma, and flavour. Some of these filtering agents can contain animal products, such as egg whites or isinglass. Trace amounts of these fining agents may remain in the wine after bottling, therefore a wine can only be considered vegetarian when filtering agents such as casein and albumin are used. Vegan wines must be fined by carbon, bentonite clay, limestone, kaolin clay, plant casein, silica gel or vegetable plaques.
Search for our vegan and vegeterian symbols in store and online when lookng for your perfect vegan or vegeterian wine.
Although Natural wines date back to the very earliest history of winemaking over 6,000 years ago, the modern interpretation is often accredited to Jules Chauvet (1907-1989) of Beaujolais, who pioneered winemaking without added Sulphur for local consumption. Natural winemakers usually farm organically and use minimal winemaking intervention. The term “Natural” is inexact, as all wines are made from grapes and evolve in both the cellar and the bottle.
No additives or processing aids are used in Natural winemaking, and ‘intervention’ in the naturally occurring fermentation process is kept to a minimum. Natural wines will usually only undergo a very light filtrtation, so will often be cloudy in the bottle. This makes them more unstable and are usually made for immediate consumption.
Certification - Label statement as natural wine has no legal definition or certifying body.
For most white wines, the grape skins are removed from the juice prior to fermentation. For an Orange Wine the winemaker will leave the grape skins in contact with the fermenting juice, thus extracting tannins and the characterisitic amber or orange colour. Natural yeasts are usually used for the fermentation process and no sulphur is added which results in some intentional oxidation leading to a distinct flavour profile.
Certification: Label statement as Orange wine has no legal certifying body.
Lynne Coyle MW is O’Briens Wine Director and sources and selects our wine and Champagne range. One of only 420 Masters of Wine worldwide, she has dedicated her career to the food and drinks industry. Lynne also writes, judges at international wine competitions, is a Wine & Spirit Education Trust Certified Educator and makes her own wines in Spain.