Going Organic with a Master of Wine

Rocco Forte Hotels

With the focus on sustainability gaining momentum across the world, we delve into the blossoming organic wine industry with celebrated Master of Wine, Nicola Arcedeckne-Butler from Private Cellar


With the notable interest in sustainable wines, can you explain the difference between organic, natural and bio-dynamic wine?

The question of sustainable farming is increasingly important. Organic wine is produced without the use of chemicals – which can be a riskier way of growing vines.  Look for an Ecocert green leaf emblem on the wine label.  Natural wines are made with minimum intervention in the vineyard and in the cellar – made from organically grown grapes and produced without adding or subtracting from the winemaking process. Somewhat confusingly, organic viticulture is called ‘bio’ in many languages, but the word ‘bio’ does not mean biodynamics.  The latter follows Dr Rudolf Steiner’s practices based on the moon phase calendar. In addition, fertilisers are 100% natural, based on infusions made from plant and animal materials, the theory being that re-introducing a natural, ancient rhythm to vine growing and winemaking will restore the balance and intensity in the wine. 


What should we look out for when ordering these types of wines at a restaurant?

Most restaurants highlight organic wines on their wine list, but do ask your sommelier about organic, natural, or biodynamic wines as not all will be labelled as such. The most famous example of a certified biodynamic winery is Domaine Leflaive in Puligny Montrachet, an early adopter of the philosophy. In Champagne, Louis Roederer farms 50% of their holdings biodynamically alongside their organically grown vines. And 2012 was the first vintage of Cristal Champagne to be produced from 100% biodynamically grown grapes. 

Can you describe what is meant by a ‘sustainable vineyard’ in terms of growing grapes?

It is important to note that ‘organic’ does not necessarily equal ‘sustainable’.  Sustainability takes things a step further to ensure there is balance and longevity within the vineyard ecosystem. There are so many ways in which the industry can improve to lighten our carbon footprint.  Practices include reducing water usage and recycling water, planting cover crops,  introducing renewable energy, composting and utilising lighter glass bottles.   


Which wine region in Europe is leading the way in producing high-quality organic wines?

Interestingly, the climate in Austria is particularly suited to the production of organic wines. I can highly recommend top-quality organic wines made from Grüner Veltliner and Zweigelt, not least because they make a change from the ‘international’ varieties that we tend to drink that we naturally lean towards.

Are there any notable wine makers creating high quality organic wine?

A wonderful estate called Casa Emma in Tuscany ‘employs’ geese to patrol the vineyards as organic quality controllers, eating up any pests and fertilising the soil as they go. They also make a fabulous organic wine fermented and matured in a 1,000 litre clay amphora. The only sadness is that 1,000 litres doesn’t go very far around the world!  In Germany, Weingut von Buhl in the Pfalz make beautiful, classic Rieslings; their Grosses Gewächs, the equivalent of Burgundy’s Grands Crus, are particularly worth seeking out.


Where do you see the next big growth in terms of sustainable wine production?

Shipping and packaging have to be the obvious areas.  Think of the carbon footprint created by shipping bottles around the world encased in heavy wood. Packaging has improved in recent years and there are some excellent alternatives to glass bottles that do not allow oxygen to permeate into the wine. We need to ‘normalise’ sustainable packaging, and while a bag-in-box might not look smart on a dining table, served from an elegant decanter, the wine will look, and taste, superb if it is of good quality. 

Should we store organic/ natural wine any differently to non-organic / non-natural wine?

Whether organically or conventionally made, all wine benefits from being stored in a cool, dark place at a consistent temperature, without vibrations. Because of the reduced antioxidant sulphites in natural wines, it would be sensible to keep an eye on drinking dates and evolution of the wine in bottle.


Explore a diverse world of wines, from traditional growers to biodynamic and organic labels from our well-stocked wine cellars while staying at Rocco Forte Hotels.


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