Organic certification provides a robust framework that treats soils with more respect than conventional growing methods and enables winemakers to reap the rewards of treating Mother Nature with more kindness.
They say good things take time and after 36 years, the time has finally arrived for Guy McMaster to release his first organic wines at Palliser Estate in Martinborough.
The organics in question is certified organics with BioGro NZ. Not, as a fellow wine colleague once suggested, "organic wine - a totally meaningless idea."
There is meaning in organic certification and there is also plenty of confusion, if the viewpoints I hear from wine drinkers at tastings is anything to go by. So the release of McMaster's first two organically certified wines seems like an apt opportunity to clear up a few mysteries and misconceptions.
First, organic wine does contain sulphur, which is an elemental compound and is permitted in organically certified winemaking. It is typically added to the wine at bottling but is also allowed to be added to grapes in the vineyard, typically at lower levels than in conventional, non organic winemaking.
"The good thing from a consumer's perspective is that you can’t just keep adding sulphur to an organically grown wine, say for example in a disease pressure year when there is a lot of botrytis (grape shrivel caused by noble rot), winemakers will often add more sulphur. Conventional winemakers don’t need to be worried by the amount they add whereas organic winemakers need to adhere to limits placed upon them by BioGro, emphasising the need for clean fruit from the vineyard," says McMaster, who began at Palliser in 2015 as viticulturist and assistant winemaker, becoming winemaker in 2019.
So what does organically certified wine mean?
Organically certified wine is made from grapes grown on vineyards that have not had any man made inputs, such as systemic fungicides, herbicides, pesticides, fertilisers and other added man made compounds.
Organic certification provides a robust framework that treats soils with more respect than conventional growing methods and enables winemakers to reap the rewards of treating Mother Nature with more kindness. This does not necessarily mean that organic wine will taste a certain way but it does ensure it is made without man made chemical inputs.
"We are aiming to get more life back in the soils and when you walk down organic rows of vines there is a softness underfoot that you don't get in conventionally farmed vineyards. I think there is more microbial life which creates more airspace in the soils. By contrast, when you push a spade under a vine where there is herbicide used, the first 30 cms is quite hard and difficult to push into," says McMaster.
"When you allow worms to survive in soils, they create pathways and you get more softness in the soils. It is probably incredibly subjective as to what people see in the taste of organically certified wines because we haven't done any chemical analysis but what we see in the organic Pinot Noir is a real earthy taste, savouriness and textural nature to the wine."
Palliser Estate's first two organically certified wines
Those first two organically certified wines are a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the two flagship wines from this Martinborough winery. Both are made from single vineyard sites. Here are my reviews of these two kids on the organic block.
Wine of the week
2022 Palliser Hua Nui Pinot Noir RRP $117
Earthy aromas and flavours come through in this delicate Pinot Noir from the 2022 harvest in Martinborough. Red fruit flavours of concentrated cranberries and cherries add depth and complexity to this vintage of Hua Nui PInot Noir, which is a lighter expression than the full bodied 2021, but which drinks well now and will continue to develop for about four to five years.
2022 Palliser Estate Om Santi Chardonnay RRP $86
This new Om Santi Chardonnay, the first certified organic vintage of the wine, is a full bodied, flavoursome Martinborough Chardonnay with intensely concentrated creamy nuances, a smooth full body and lingering finish. It drinks well now with layers of ripe white peach, nectarines and citrusy ripe grapefruit, all giving it a long finish.
Natural wine has nothing to do with organic certification and currently lacks an agreed global definition. Sulphur is permitted to be added to wines bearing the natural label. The starting point for any product claiming to be natural would logically be organic certification of the raw material, but this is not the case with a vast number of wines being marketed as natural. Some members of the natural wine brigade choose not to add sulphur to wine, which also confounds me because I like wine to taste fresh and the volume of sulphur added to wine is significantly lower than it used to be, despite the supposed rise in allergies. Just saying.