The Viva Guide To Organic Wine: The Best Sips Treading Lightly On The Planet

A new generation of drinkers is reaching for wines that are easier on the environment, and local wine makers are heeding the call with an impressive selection of organic drops


Photo / Babiche Martens

What do Ata Rangi, Felton Road, and Neudorf have in common? They are, of course, some of the country’s most highly regarded wineries.

What is less well known is that they are also united as organic producers. It’s an approach that’s become increasingly embraced in recent years by some of New Zealand’s leading wineries, largely from the conviction that eschewing synthetic chemicals allows them to make even better wines.

Organic wine is on the rise worldwide, growing at a higher rate than the wine category overall, with consumption forecast to more than double between 2013 and 2023. While Europe dominates organic wine production, here in New Zealand 10 per cent of our wineries now have organic certification, while our certified vineyard area grew by around a third in the last three years.

In the same period the export value of the country’s organic wines grew 40 per cent, with wine now New Zealand’s third most valuable organic export.

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Much of the popularity of organic wines is consumer-driven. The new generation of drinkers in particular, concerned about the environment and health, are reaching for more natural products. Larger wine companies have started to notice the importance of the market, some launching 100 per cent organic ranges that are taking organic wines to a wider audience.

In New Zealand, for example, Pernod Ricard released its organic Stoneleigh range, while this year Villa Maria — which has been working with organics since 1999 and manages over 30 per cent of its company-owned vineyards organically — launched its organic Earth Garden wines.

Boutique wineries still dominate the organic scene. But the kinds of establishments making organic wines and their reasons for doing so, have undergone a major shift. In the early days, ethics often exceeded winemaking expertise, resulting in some feral specimens that deterred some from revisiting organic wine.

Indeed, the first organic wine tasting I participated in several decades ago was a shocker. Times have changed, as a wave of highly proficient winemakers take up organics, motivated by a desire to improve quality and better reflect the individual character of their vineyards.

Science is lending increased support for such aspirations of quality and uniqueness achieved through organics. A New Zealand study followed the progress of three vineyards across the country that had been split in two: one half managed conventionally, the other organically.

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The organic halves saw no major increase in pests or disease, while the wines made from each block saw the organic examples judged to be as good, if not better, than their conventional counterparts.

Discoveries that vineyard microbes influence a wine’s taste also reinforce the importance of a chemical-free approach to winegrowing. Research has found wild yeast communities in vineyards are regionally distinct, while microbes in the soil can vary between vineyards in the same region.

For those seeking to make distinctive regional or single vineyard wines that best harness these unique combinations, disturbing or destroying biodiversity through chemical use makes little sense.

I’m convinced New Zealand wine’s future is organic, and the adoption of its practices by New Zealand’s best and brightest winemakers and growers will continue to take the country’s wines to new heights. This is certainly something reflected in my tastings of the latest wave of local organic releases, so many which were not only well made, but genuinely interesting and expressive.

Here are some delicious examples I’ve selected.

1. Luc Lapeyre Avis de Vin Frais Rouge, Languedoc, Vin de France 2020, $25
A delicious example from further afield. France has the second largest area of organic vines in the world. This great value spicy biodynamic blend of grenache, syrah and cabernet is brimming with light, juicy and joyful blackberry and plum. Find it at Barewine.co.nz

2. Stonecroft Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay Gewurztraminer 2020, $27
Hawke’s Bay may have comparably less organic vineyards than our other major wine regions, but examples like this demonstrate its potential. Slippery nectarine combines with classic gewurztraminer characters of rosewater, lychee and aromatic spice, here enticingly redolent of garam masala. Find it at Stonecroft.co.nz

3. Carrick Billet-Doux Central Otago Pinot Noir 2019, $36
A pretty, perfumed pinot, made with minimal intervention; just a little time in old French barriques. Silken-textured, its pure, bright raspberries and cherries are scented with notes of rose, chrysanthemum, thyme and a hint of exotic spice. Stockists include Caro’s, Fine-O-Wine Milford, Gladstone Wines, Liquor Centre Greenhithe, Liquorland Southgate Stonefields, Super Liquor Devonport and Mairangi Bay

4. Rock Ferry Trig Hill Vineyard Central Otago Tempranillo 2018, $45
Spain may be the world’s largest organic wine producer, but one of its classic grapes is making an engaging, if rare, example in Central Otago. This tempranillo is spicy and savoury with ripe and concentrated dark berries from this warm vintage, overlaid with notes of cocoa, liquorice and bay leaf. Buy it online at Rockferry.co.nz and Greatlittlevineyards.com

5. Felton Road Cornish Point Central Otago Pinot Noir 2020, $71-$86
A beautifully fragrant biodynamic pinot noir from a site almost entirely surrounded by water. Lavender, rose, sandalwood, mocha, mineral and earth mingle with deep black cherry and plum in this fresh and incredibly fine-textured wine. Find it at Caro’s, Glengarry, Regional Wines & Spirits, Advintage, Decant, Nelson Liquor Merchants, Meenan Wines & Spirits, Feltonroad.com

6. Terrace Edge North Canterbury Syrah 2019, $36
Juicy red plum is joined by fragrant notes of rose florals, black pepper, five spice and cocoa in this vibrant and velvety syrah that’s grown on a 45-degree sun-baked slope in Waipara. Stockists include The Good Wine Co, Point Wines, Super Liquor Greerton, Liquor Barn, Centre City Wine & Spirits, Regional Wines & Spirits, Vino Fino

7. Greenhough Hope Vineyard Nelson Pinot Blanc 2019, $32
A great alternative to the ubiquitous pinot gris, Greenhough makes a lovely example of its relative, pinot blanc. It’s a fresh and citrusy midweight wine, with pure white fruits and a touch of toasted almond. Visit Greenhough.co.nz

8. Deep Down Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2020, $27
A fabulous wild-fermented sauvignon blanc from the exciting new venture of ex-Seresin winemaker Clive Dougall. Poised and textural, its elegant tropical and nectarine fruit are wrapped in a limey, chalky acidity. Find it at Star Superette, Farro, Fine Wine Delivery Company, Hamilton Beer and Wine, Wine Barrel, Cellar Ahuriri, Moore Wilson's, Arrowtown Wine Store

9. Windrush Marlborough Pinot Noir 2019, $33
A moreish pinot made by second-generation organic grape growers from a single vineyard that was organic from the outset. Its ripe and fresh cherries are overlaid with notes of baking spice, earth, forest floor, dried herb and a touch of milk chocolate. Find it at Glengarry Victoria Park, Cahn’s Wines & Spirits, By the Bottle, Black Market, Windrushorganic.com

10. Dog Point Vineyard Marlborough Chardonnay 2019, $40
The latest release of one of New Zealand’s classic chardonnays again hits all the right notes. A powerful symphony of flint, gunsmoke, fresh grapefruit and ripe stonefruit, with a resonant freshness and sustained mineral note. Find it at Fine Wine Delivery Company, Caro’s, Glengarry, Dogpoint.co.nz

11. Kelly Washington Southern Valleys Marlborough Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2018, $38
Too often underrated, semillon is the star of this complex and intensely flavoured textural blend made in a concrete egg. Driven by a tight line of limey acidity, its notes of greengage and herb are counterpoised by rich waxy, toasty, honeyed and nougat characters. Stockists include Wine Direct, Waiheke Wine Centre, Kellywashingtonwines.com

12. Te Awanga Estate “One Off” Smoke & Mirrors Hawke’s Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2018, $25
An organic sauvignon blanc from Hawke’s Bay may be something of an anomaly, but this “one off” is a wonderful surprise. Wild fermented and aged in barrel, it’s a riot of tangy lime, grapefruit and bergamot, with white fruits, jasmine, a hint of herbal bitters and a salty mineral edge. Stockists include Mt Roskill Super Liquor, Norwest Liquor, Hamilton Beer & Wine Company, Liquorland Orewa, Teawangaestate.co.nz

This article was originally published in Viva Magazine – Volume Five

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