Millésime Bio, the wine fair devoted to organic and biodynamic wines, went digital this year, for a 28th session unlike any other. I registered my interest and attended a couple of zoom conferences. I also made contact with a couple of interesting wine growers, but that part of the organisation was a bit hit and miss.
I listened to the press conference on the first morning, which was conducted by various presidents, of Sudvinbio, Millésime Bio and the Region Occitanie, and which gave some interesting figures. They had 1000 exhibitors from 16 countries. However, 80% of them came from France. They emphasised that Languedoc Roussillon is the most important region in France for organic viticulture and indeed 35% of the exhibitors were from Occitanie, with 310 exhibitors. 42,424 hectares in Occitanie are farmed organically, with 2540 estates in 2019, with a further 446 in the three-year conversion process, with a steady growth in the quantity of organic wine produced each year. It was all very encouraging.
Half the visitors who registered were from outside France, with the digital element offering a distinct advantage to those from further afield, and consequently for 2022, they are anticipating a physical salon, with a digital dimension. Personally, I hope that the digital element will lead on to real meetings, with of course, tastings.
Organic wine with Virgile Joly
On the second morning of Millésime Bio, there was a conference, entitled What is Organic Wine? Virgile Joly, of Domaine Virgile Joly in St Saturnin, was the key speaker.
First it was explained that the new European regulations for organic wine now cover wine-making and not just work in the vineyards, so the entire process from grape to bottle. Their implementation has been delayed for a year, thanks to Covid, so they will come into effect in January 2022. Nothing chemical may be used, no pesticides, herbicides, synthetic products, chemical fertilisers, and the amount of sulphur is limited. Organic viticulture entails a global approach, considering the vine in its environment. Inevitably it entails more work in the vineyard, and for that reason it is inevitably more expensive to produce.
The conversion process takes three years, and for the second harvest the wine may be labelled, produit en conversion. The conversion to biodynamic viticulture also takes three years, with several possible labels such as Biodyvin and Demeter. As for Vin Nature there is no official denomination, but a private cahier des charges, for Vin Méthode Nature.
Virgile talked about his work. He farms 26 hectares of AOP Languedoc, Terrasses du Larzac and St Saturnin, and committed to organic viticulture right from his very first vintage in the Languedoc, in 2000, at a time when organic wines were much less fashionable and sought after than they are now. The first consideration was the health of the vineyard workers. As he observed, 'we are the first to be exposed to pesticides when we spray them on our vines'. He emphasised the importance of the environment, with the respect for nature. And why take the trouble to obtain the certification? As Virgile commented, it is very easy to raconter des histoires; it is all too easy to talk. The organic organisations can do spot checks, unannounced, as well as a regular audit for which they make an appointment. Virgile has had an inspector appear at the end of a hard day of harvesting, just to check there was nothing untoward in his cellar, that should not be there. And in the spring, they will check for herbicides.
Virgile talked about the work in the vineyard. He uses natural fertilisers; grass and weeds are controlled mechanically and only contact products can be used, and no systemics. Copper and sulphur are allowed, but are limited. The problem with contact products is that they are washed off in the rain, but the equipment available for vineyard work has also improved over the last 20 years. In the cellar, there are not too many constraints. Chaptalisation and oak chips are still allowed, for those who want to use them. I realise now that nobody mentioned yeast, but I think that any serious organic winegrower would only ever use natural indigenous yeast.
Virgile talked of wanting to go further, mentioning HVE or Haute Valeur Environnementale and Bee Friendly, programmes that consider biodiversity. He talked about the development of hedges with indigenous varieties of trees, and considered ground cover for alternate rows in the vineyard, which enhances biodiversity. He also talked about the neighbours. The vineyards in St Saturnin are very fragmented, so you need to be on good terms with your neighbours and ask them to avoid spraying your vines when they are spraying theirs. Happily, organic viticulture is better perceived these days, even by those who do not actually practice it. So all in all, a fairly rosy picture.