The area under cultivation of organic wines in Germany is growing. "Around 12.5 percent or 12,500 hectares are organically certified," says Randolf Kauer, Professor of Organic Viticulture at the University of Applied Sciences in Geisenheim, Hesse. "That corresponds to a fivefold increase in the area under organic vines since 2004," adds Ernst Büscher, spokesman for the German Wine Institute. After almost 40 years, organic viticulture has "firmly established".
"Most companies are converting because organic wines are in demand," reports scientist Kauer, himself an organic winegrower from the Middle Rhine. "The flagship companies in the VDP (Association of German Prädikat Wineries) are really pushing the tube. The big companies are following suit." In the Rheingau, more than 20 percent of the companies are now organically certified.
"In organic winegrowing, the primary goal is to maintain a balanced ecosystem in the vineyard and to promote biodiversity," says Büscher, explaining the principles. All chemical-synthetic pesticides are therefore avoided, as are artificially produced fertilizers and herbicides. "In terms of sensor technology, there are no major differences," says Kauer. "Because when buying wine, the focus is on the taste of the wine, so organic is often an additional benefit that people are happy to take with them because it supports environmentally friendly wine production," says Büscher.
The quality increases
Büscher reports that many companies have noticed a qualitative improvement in their wines as a result of the three-year conversion from conventional to organic cultivation. Not all winegrowers, however, carry their ecological farming methods "big to the outside world". At the same time, there is a whole range of eco-seals for organic winegrowers.
"A good half of the companies are exclusively EU-certified," says Kauer. The EU organic logo with a euro leaf on a green background has been around for more than ten years (August 2012). This is becoming increasingly well known to consumers, while the hexagonal German organic seal is losing importance.
In addition to the external trade in the vineyard, the EU regulation also regulates the technical cellar preparation of the organic wines, explains Büscher. These included lower sulfur limits compared to conventionally produced wines. "In addition, some wine treatment substances are dispensed with, some must be of ecological origin and the renunciation of any genetic engineering, for example in the case of yeasts, is prescribed."
Associations set their own guidelines
"The other seals were distributed among several associations, above all Ecovin as a purely organic winegrowing association, followed by Bioland, Naturland and Demeter," says Kauer. According to the organic farming portal of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, these cultivation associations and the organic association GÄA had already drawn up their own guidelines for winemaking before 2012. "These differ from the EU regulation in that they have higher requirements or stricter bans on the use of auxiliary materials and processes."
"These cultivation associations have been introduced in the organic sector," says the Rhineland-Palatinate consumer advice center. Customers know her from organic food. Not so Ecovin: According to Büscher, the association, founded in 1985, is the largest association of ecologically working wineries in the world. The almost 250 member companies cultivated more than 2700 hectares of vineyards in twelve German wine-growing regions last year. In Italy and France, the proportion of organically certified cultivation areas is growing even faster than in Germany, says Kauer, speaking of around 20 percent each.
According to Büscher, the trend towards biodynamic farming in German organic viticulture is only a few years old. The Demeter farms that work in this way "use the forces of nature even more strongly" and also orientate themselves on the anthroposophist Rudolf Steiner. They didn't produce wine, but "accompany it with minimal measures," according to Demeter. This also includes burying cow horns in the vineyard filled with ground quartz or manure, reports Andreas Roll from the biodynamic Gustavshof in Gau-Heppenheim in Rhenish Hesse.
So many things are still in their infancy
"There are also a few small groups with labels," says Kauer. On some bottles, for example, you can find the logos of Respect Biodyn, based in Austria, and the French brand Biodyvin - both also stand for biodynamic winegrowing. Fair'n Green, on the other hand, is not an organic seal but a seal for sustainable viticulture. Around 120 companies have joined, both conventional and organic winegrowers. These include VDP wineries such as Jean Stodden and Meyer-Näkel von der Ahr.
In addition to Demeter, Winzer Roll also has more and more "Maxnat" wines on offer, about 10 of the 30 varieties. "Maxnat" stands for "maximum natural," explains the 43-year-old. This includes both quality and country wines. "But that's still in its infancy." Around 20 companies in Germany have taken part so far. Roll describes the credo in the production of the naturally cloudy, unsulphurised and unfiltered natural wines as follows: "Nothing in and nothing out."
"With organic wines, there are many individualists who make particularly interesting wines," says Kauer. This also included these so-called natural wines. However: "Natural wines are completely uncertified. They do not have to be organically certified."