From August 1st 2012 “organic” wines produced in the EU will be allowed to call themselves “organic wine” or “vin biologique” rather than the current term “wine made from organically grown grapes”. Is this progress? Or is it a major step backwards?

For years organic producers have been asking for permission to describe their wines as organic, so they no doubt believe this is a breakthrough. Many of them no doubt make their wines as naturally as they can so they deserve this recognition. But let’s not forget the cynical big producers in the industry who have milked the organic tag for marketing their inferior mass produced chemical infused wines.

Until now the legal term was “wine made from organically grown grapes”, and it was only the grape growing which was monitored or certified. For the actual winemaking the grapes could be vinified like any other wine with the addition of significant amounts of chemicals, acid rectification and a host of other treatments.

The new EU charter includes both growing and winemaking so that is progress. Some elements like acid rectification will be forbidden – great. But there are still an awful lot of artificial practices which will be allowed such as the use of artificial yeasts and the addition of sulphur. So it’s still perfectly acceptable to pick the grapes then immediately spray them with potassium metabisulphite powder as they leave the vineyard?

The new charter says organic wines should use 30% to 50% less sulphur than standard wines. That would mean an EU certified organic white wine could legally contain 147 mg/l of sulphites. That doesn’t sound natural or organic to me. 30 mg/l of sulphites is generally enough to give a sensitive person a bad attack.

Whereas in the USA organic wines are not permitted to add any sulphur so they generally contain less than 10 mg/l in total (naturally produced during fermentation). So is this progress? Or is it just a mass marketing ploy to increase sales of EU produced wines, which will no doubt confuse the consumer who is looking to buy only healthy wines?

The EU say there will be a full traceability system to ensure their rules are followed but who exactly is going to police this? The UK has a major problem with smuggled wine currently in the billions of pounds a year – it’s not like sticking a bottle in your suitcase, this is hundreds of containers a year entering through our established ports. The supermarkets sell five times more “Pinot Grigio del Venezie” each year than the region can even produce, let alone how much of the genuine wine is sold to other countries. If the EU can’t police these issues how are they going to ensure that a vineyard in remote Sicily hasn’t rectified his acid?

If the EU are serious about promoting organic status, why don’t they come clean and insist on honest factual labelling for wines. It is required on all foods – except wines, which are classed as “food” for all other purposes. Why not insist on the sulphite content being stated on the label, as well as a full list of ALL chemicals in there?

I’ll tell you why. Because there would be hundreds of true organic wines on the market which the concerned consumer could then make an informed choice to purchase – but at the expense of the thousands of artificial wines that masquerade under the current EU organic status. And nobody in Brussels wants to upset big business.

I suspect this new certification will further blur the line between genuine organically produced wines and those that can broadly qualify as such (EU organic). It appears to be particularly aimed at causing confusion between the current USA (real organic) certification, and the very loose current EU certification. I don’t think it will benefit the consumer or the genuine organic producer. But it will benefit the big EU wine producers, and of course the EU’s coffers as they sell more EU organic wine at the expense of imports from the USA.

Progress then? Definiteley. But not for the small dedicated organic producer or the UK consumer, just for big business and Brussels.