By Julia Bailey
The concept of organic produce is not a new one. In fact, long before the invention of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, people were farming naturally. Over time, the desire to efficiently produce food and drink, both in terms of cost and time, meant that producers became increasingly reliant on these synthetic production aids to meet demand.
Even as recently as the 1980s, the suggestion of mainstream organic wines, beers and ciders was laughable, and the idea that you would be charged extra for the privilege of drinking them was even further grounds for amusement.
More recently though, consumers have come full circle; they are increasingly discerning and conscious with regards to their food and drink choices. Earlier this year the Soil Association announced that sales of organic produce had risen by 2.8% in 2013.
Many leading brands now offer sustainable alternatives, whether it be the big names of Aspall and Weston’s in the cider world, or boutique wine and beer producers.
What’s interesting is that nowadays many drinks producers are actually practising organic and following the philosophy even if they have not sought out official certification. Take gin, the UK’s current spirit of choice, and you’ll find that many boutique producers use organically sourced botanicals. Since they don’t have official accreditation though, they cannot claim to be organic. One of the few brands that can is Juniper Green, who were the first organic producers of London Dry gin.
The reason behind the lack of official certification is very straightforward; it turns out that certification is both an expensive and time-consuming process, which many producers believe is more hassle than it’s worth.
Within the wine industry, many producers practise organic viticulture without seeking accreditation as well, but there is a new wave of sustainable viticulture sweeping through the industry.
Developed in the 1920s, biodynamic agriculture stems from organic production, meaning that there are no pesticides or synthetic chemicals used in the vineyard. The difference is that biodynamics takes this concept a step further, by having a more holistic approach that works in accordance with the lunar cycles.
In fact, for a vineyard to qualify as biodynamic there are a strict number of natural remedies that must be prepared and administered to the vineyard at certain phases of the moon. While this celestial practice is not exclusive to wine production – as any sort of agricultural crop can be biodynamically farmed – the practice has certainly been embraced by the wine trade more than any other drinks category.
As you can imagine, it’s quite a controversial topic and has many critics. Although, when you consider the influence the moon has over our tides, then perhaps that it affects how crops grow is not as far-fetched as it may seem. It certainly has a string of famous followers, from the big names of Chapoutier, Leroy and Nicolas Joly to more boutique producers such as Lageder and Huia.
Those who follow the philosophy swear that not only are their vineyards much healthier, but that their end product tastes substantially better too.
Whether you’re seeking out organic, biodynamic or even fairtrade drinks, the first place to check is on the label, but do remember that many producers will not have paid for the privilege of displaying this badge of sustainability. If you want to be certain about how your beverage of choice is made, then it’s always best to check with the manufacture.
A journalist turned drinks expert, Julia Bailey teaches others about wine and spirits in her own fresh, straightforward format. She also runs a wine and food website.