Viticulture: all about environmental labels!

Pictures from  Domaine Vazart-Coquart  (Champagne)

Pictures from Domaine Vazart-Coquart (Champagne)

At a time when many questions are being asked about climate change, viticulture cannot escape this debate. As a stakeholder in the earth's well-being, vineyards are also concerned with more responsible production in order to provide healthy, quality wines that respect the planet.

While pioneers did not wait for the recent awakening to adopt more respectful viticulture, the majority of farms are now concerned. However, not all of them go about it in the same manner: integrated, organic, biodynamic viticulture, natural or vegan wines... it is difficult for the consumer to sort through the labels available.

A short description of the main labels and logos that you may encounter.

The different labels

Responsible Viticulture: Terra Vitis and HVE certification

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The purpose of responsible agriculture is to use as few products with chemical components as possible, thus taking advantage of as many natural solutions as possible, except in case of force majeure where harvests would be threatened. The idea is to make a "responsible," and therefore intelligent, use of pesticides, especially in areas where it is more difficult to convert to organic. 

There are many regional certifications and two main national certifications:  

- The HVE - Haute Valeur Environnementale (High Environmental Value) certification, established by the Grenelle de l'Environnement in 2008 pertains to all forms of agriculture. It has three levels, with the most advanced farms in this approach classified as "HVE3". This label rewards farms that make precise choices in the protection of crops (such as limited use of insecticides, both in quality and quantity), have the most beneficial water management possible, and pay particular attention to biodiversity protection of the flora and fauna.  

- Terra Vitis: An older network (created in 1998) of several hundred winemakers grouped in regional associations that each have a set of appropriate responsibilities divided into 3 pillars: ecological, social, and economic. It is a global approach, which takes into account the entire farm operation - its environment, its people, and its economic viability. An estate certified "Terra Vitis" is automatically awarded Level 2 High Environmental Value (HVE). The Terra Vitis logo displays an insect - the green lacewing on a vine leaf. This represents the necessary balance of biodiversity in the vines, since the lacewing feeds on vine predators like aphids. 

Their strength: A global approach that relies on the entire operation's environmental and social virtues!
 

Many domaines that offer their vintages as Cuvée Privée are labelled HVE, check them out!

Organic viticulture: Eurofeuille and organic farming

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Organic viticulture is more of a "product" certification and less of a global one. It promises grapes and vines cultivated without synthetic products in the vineyard - without fertilizer or chemical weeding. It also imposes stringent restrictions in terms of winemaking, such as the use of organic raw materials or a significant decrease in the maximum amounts of sulphites in wines. 

Organic viticulture does not prohibit chemical inputs. It allows natural and organic products to protect the plant from diseases.

However, there are two labels: the "Agriculture Biologique" (Organic Agriculture) label, owned by the Ministry of Agriculture, and the organic label of the European Union, represented by the Eurofeuille. Only the Eurofeuille must appear on the label of French wines, because since 2009, European countries can no longer have their own legislation concerning organic farming. Thus, we often still find the "Agriculture Biologique" logo, which is still allowed but optional. 

Just as with other crops, the organic label is popular in viticulture. 12% of French vineyards were labelled organic in 2018, representing 94,000 hectares (363 square miles). However, they are not distributed evenly throughout the country, and regions such as Languedoc represent a high concentration of labelled wineries. 

We invite you to discover for yourself the wines and practices of a domaine that uses organic cultivation during the Jeudi des Gravennes (every Thursday in August) in Suze-la-Rousse.

Even more demanding organic viticulture:

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In addition to the EU label, which is sometimes considered too lax, private organic certifications have emerged with stricter specifications than the European reference. For example there is Nature et Progrès (Nature and Progress), which is defined as a citizen movement, or "Bio Coherence", founded by Biocoop. These private certifications ban some inputs, such as slaughterhouse by-products and fish collagen, and commit to local and short-circuit production, decent working conditions, and human-sized operations.

Their strength: A European label whose promise is clear and uncompromising.

Biodynamic viticulture: Demeter and Biodyvin

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Biodynamic is a method of organic production (organic certification is necessary), which aims primarily to improve the quality and fertility of soils. It uses natural preparations in particular (plants, silicas, composts, etc.) in homeopathic amounts and takes into account the lunar and planetary calendars in vineyard and cellar work.

Demeter is the most famous label. In addition to the practices used in cultivating vines, it also has precise specifications for the wine-making process, which are much stricter than the previous labels.

Biodyvin is a wine-specific label issued by the Syndicat International des Vignerons en Culture Bio-Dynamique (SIVCBD). Among its members, there are many prestigious domaines. The specifications are based primarily on the grapes rather than on the wine-making process itself. Additionally, it does not in itself contain any strict prohibition, as long as the winemaker is able to justify his choices.

Their strength: Practices that pay close attention to the cycles of nature and the stars, which go beyond common pragmatism. 

Discover biodynamic wine at the Francis Jourdan domaine by embracing Cabernet Franc vines in Chinon!

Natural wines:

The producers of natural wine take the approach much further, since in addition to being organic or biodynamic, they are also prohibited from using any inputs (products that are added during the wine-making process), except for possibly a tiny amount of sulphur. Beware - natural wines are not sulphite-free. Sulphur is indeed an inevitable by-product of fermentation. Thus, we are talking about wines without added sulphur! So, the fermentation of the juice is carried out by native yeasts, which are present on the grapes and in the surrounding air, rather than by yeasts produced in the laboratory.  The goal is to manipulate wine as little as possible and let nature do the work. 

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"Fining" is not carried out in natural wines. Wine fining consists of adding a protein, which coagulates on contact with the tannins, to trap and remove suspended particles. This step prepares and optimises the wine filtering process. The most commonly used substances are collagens from fish or eggs.

Therefore, most natural wines are vegan and have a nectar look rather than a clear product.

However, there is still no official definition or certification for natural wines, and as a result, the term is often abused. Only a few vine growers are committed to respecting the specifications of the AVN (French Natural Wine Association) and Les Vins S.A.I.N.S. (Wines without Inputs or Sulphites).

Their strength: Wines that return to older practices, even ancestral ones, and which are better suited to people who are bothered by sulphites (headaches, etc.).

Vegan wines: Vegan Trademark, Label V, EVE Vegan, Qualità Vegetariana

A wine is vegan if it contains no animal products and therefore has not been fined with a product from an animal (pork gelatin, fish collagen, milk casein, egg albumin, etc.). So, the winemaker uses a vegetable alternative, or simply chooses not to fine his wine.

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Four organizations issue a vegan label for wine, each of which has its own specifications:

- the Vegan Society, with the Vegan Trademark (the sunflower logo)

– The Association Végétarienne de France (AVF or the Vegetarian Association of France which distributes the Label V, the result of a consensus of many associations in Europe  

– The Associazione Vegetariana Italiana, which has its own label: Qualità Vegetarianà, 

- Expertise Vegan Europe, which has created the EVE Vegan label, which has four levels and also certifies products from organic vegan farms using the Standard Biocyclique Végétalien (Biocyclic Vegan Standard).

 

Their strength: Wines suitable for the increasing numbers of people who are adopting a vegan diet. 

Pictures from  Domaine des Gravennes  (Rhône Valley) et du  Domaine Vazart-Coquart  (Champagne)

Pictures from Domaine des Gravennes (Rhône Valley) et du Domaine Vazart-Coquart (Champagne)


IMPORTANT INFORMATION:

The main viticultural methods and associated labels are:

  • Responsible Viticulture: Terra Vitis and HVE certification

  • Organic viticulture: Eurofeuille and organic farming

  • Biodynamic viticulture: Demeter and Biodyvin

  • Natural wines

  • Vegan wines: Vegan Trademark, Label V, EVE Vegan, Qualità Vegetariana

Justine Glantenay