One of my favourite things in life is learning and talking about organic farming and soil and how these translate into delicious wine.

My first real wine education came while working at Tiffany’s Restaurant in Christchurch in 2003 and since then I’ve had an extraordinarily enjoyable journey working in restaurants and wineries in New Zealand, Australia, the UK, Spain and France.

It was in 2008, while working in Melbourne, that I began to appreciate and acknowledge the difference that organic farming and sensitive winemaking could have on what was in the glass. My appetite for tasting new things was insatiable (it still is) and there were a few key moments and bottles that year that irreversibly piqued my interest in the relationship between organic farming and great tasting wine.

In 2013, my wife Charlotte and I found ourselves working with legendary farmer Claude Courtois in the Loire Valley. Claude showed us that the best way to make delicious wine is to start with delicious, balanced grapes and that the best way to grow delicious grapes is to have healthy soil, healthy vines and a healthy, biodiverse ecosystem in the vineyard. We realised that the most delicious, digestible and downright drinkable wines were the ones that contained organic grapes and nothing else.

I can’t stress enough the joy I get when I taste wines from vineyards that have been farmed very well and without chemicals for several decades. The level of depth, intrigue and class is enough to take your breath away. The flavours are so brilliant and transfixing that I know I want to do this job for at least another 50 years.

As much as technology has aided us in many ways there’s nothing that can replace or better organic produce and natural fermentation, particularly with respect to available nutrients and deliciousness.

For us to harvest a very beautiful and delicious grape we need a few things:

1. Healthy soil

This means organic farming. It means soil that is full of life, nutrients and microbes. This is VERY important. No synthetic herbicides, fungicides or pesticides. It also means minimising soil compaction. Why? Synthetic chemicals used in modern agriculture end up in your food (and wine). They shorten the life cycle of the soil and they negatively affect fauna. They also make it very difficult for products like wine to ferment naturally and make the vines and fruit more susceptible to disease.

The flip side is that when the soil is healthy, the sky is basically the limit – and this relates to all produce. Healthy, living soils allow for the proper uptake of nutrient to the plant. This makes the fruit taste better, have a better pH and thus more stability for the wine, and the plant is more disease resistant.

I’ll never forget the tomatoes we ate for lunch every day during vintage with Claude Coutois. They weren’t just great; they were unforgettable. I didn’t even know tomatoes could taste that good and I’m still talking about them nearly six years later. I’d also never seen wines ferment so well. Claude’s farm was such an wonderful example of what can happen when a farm is well run.

2. Healthy vines

This needs to start with organic farming. There are number of environmental factors that can affect the grape harvest like powdery and downy mildew but chemicals aren’t the answer. There are a whole host of applications that can mitigate mildew like nettle teas, seaweed spray, silica or quartz. Plant-based treatments can strengthen cell walls, aid fermentation and generally allow the plant better balance. All of this helps make great tasting grapes and the avoidance of chemical fungicides is immediately better for the environment. Most importantly, organic farming makes for much healthier produce. I realised some time ago that farmers who focussed on promoting life and working with nature as opposed to the other way around were the ones growing the best produce.

I’ve realised that I preferred the flavour, digestibility and vibrancy of wines that are unfiltered and preservative-free – wines that behave like food and that in turn are just so compatible with a meals. I’ve begun to notice extra energy and matter in wines that have been grown organically and I’ve also learnt that to do this well takes a lot of work, a lot of belief and a lot of passion. It’s seriously challenging to make wine in this way and I have soaring admiration for the people that can do it well. It was through wines like these that I went from enjoying wine to being spellbound by wine.

More than ever before, we should seek out and celebrate the farmers who are working like this. Whether we’re talking about a vigneron in Australia, (or maybe the Languedoc in France) a vegetable grower in Sunbury or a dairy farmer in Far North Queensland, it’s these organic and biodynamic producers who are generally working on a smaller scale and with greater risk. The rewards are an immediate benefit for the environment, and significantly healthier and tastier food for the consumer.

I’d put it to you to really explore the world of organically-farmed wine. Take the time to record, remember and, most importantly, celebrate the bottles that stop you in your tracks. Speak to the producer, find out how it was farmed, find out exactly how it was made, find out what was added to the wine (if anything) and then tell that organic farmer how much you enjoyed the produce and wine that they spent all year growing. Believe me, for every bottle of organic wine and every biodynamic apple or grapefruit, there was a farmer who decided to take a risk for the consumer and for the environment – it’s seriously challenging for the small scale organic farmer and, as beneficiaries of their work, we need to shout from the rooftops how much we appreciate it.

WORDS: Campbell Burton

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