Understanding organic viticulture

Published on 2021-07-12

What is organic viticulture? What’s it all about?

The purpose of organic viticulture is to protect the ecosystem (the terroir) and human health as much as possible.
Organic viticulture is a combination of practices that stimulate positive interactions between vines, soil and climate, through the use of methods that respect the environment. Since January 1, 2005, the AB logo may be placed on bottles of wine made from grapes grown using organic farming methods.
The European regulation governing organic products, introduced in 1991, does not include the winemaking process, primarily because there are no specifications in force. So for now certification involves only the grapes used to make the wine.
Various organisations (Fédération nationale interprofessionnelle des vins de l’agriculture biologique, Nature et Progrès, and for biodynamic wines, Déméter and Biodyvin) offer charters to which winemakers can subscribe. Proper application of some these winemaking charters is sometimes certified by an independent certifying organisation. 
There are two objectives to this voluntary approach: move legislation forward and, in the meantime, provide the consumer with products that are guaranteed organic from vine to bottle.

What does organic viticulture consist in?

Production standards for organic viticulture are defined by European regulation CE 2092/91 of 24 June 1991, which requires, in particular that:
- the activity be certified by the departmental authority for agriculture and forests;
- grapes be cultivated using no synthetic chemical products;
- organic farming principles be applied for three entire seasons before the ‘wine produced from organically grown grapes’ claim is used;
- the winemaker be certified by an organisation that has been approved by the Ministry of Agriculture.
Biodynamic viticulture goes even further in terms of production standards. It requires the implementation of preventive practices to rebalance organisms by taking cosmic influences (moon and sun, for example) into account.
Finally, all wines from organic agriculture are inspected and certified each year. The rate of inspection for organic viticulture is currently one of the highest in all of agriculture.

What main points are included in organic wine charters?

Organic wine charters define rules for the various stages of winemaking, according to type of wine (red wines, white and rosé wines, champagnes, sparkling and crémant wines, semi-sweet and sweet wines, liqueur-like and naturally sweet wines) and from the grape must phase until bottling, as well as all products that can be added during each phase, and their quantities.
- Only wines from organically-grown grapes, made in keeping with the principles of the charter, can be used for the creation of organic wines.
- Only authorised oenological products, preferably in pure form, can be used, and these must be used in minimal, sensible qualities.
- Some products and practices, such as the use of chemical fertilisers, synthetic pesticides, GMO or products made from GMO, and some fermentation activators high in sulphur content, are prohibited.
- A list of products and practices to replace those that are prohibited.
- Charters also advise that a system of traceability for winemaking operations be put in place.

Some may view such an approach as involving too many procedures and too much paperwork, but it is the guarantee of a true approach to organic wine production that is now unanimously recognised by the entire wine sector. The increase, each year, in land areas devoted to organic wine production proves that it responds to an increasing demand for methods that respect the environment and protect biodiversity.

What is the purpose of organic viticulture?

While the main objective of organic viticulture is to preserve the ecosystem and protect health, there are other important reasons to support its development:

Organic viticulture leads to the creation of high-quality wines.
An effort has been made in the past few years to improve quality, and results are clear: organic wines are now regularly awarded medals in ‘conventional’ wine competitions such as the Concours Général de Paris, Concours International de Lyon, etc. Numerous organic wines are included in wine guides, and are nationally and in some cases internationally acclaimed: In Burgandy, for example, there is La Romanée Conti, Lalou Bize Leroy, and Anne Claude Leflaive. In Alsace, Kreydenweiss, Humbrecht, and Deiss. In the Loire, Nicolas Joly (La Coulée de Serrant), the Huet domain, and Marc Angeli. In the Rhône there is Chapoutier, and in Provence there is Hauvette, and Grands Crus Classés such as Pontet Canet in Pauillac and Fonroque in Saint Emilion. In a more ‘playful’ style, there are wines from Claude Courtois, the Bretons, and Richaud...not to mention all the great organic wines waiting to be discovered.

Organic winemaking helps diversify and segment the wine sector.
French viticulture is in the throes of a ‘sustainability’ crisis and organic viticulture is a true alternative that creates new markets by meeting consumers’ demand for products that respect the environment.

It helps create and save jobs.
By their nature, organic viticulture practices require regular inspection of grapevines, judicious interventions and some manual operations, all of which require more labour than conventional viticulture.

It helps protect water resources.
Because no herbicide are used, organic viticulture helps reduce the risk of polluting groundwater.

Where are the organic winegrowers? Who are they?

In 2009, there were 3024 vineyards covering 17,492 ha, i.e. less than 2% of the total. The 21,654 ha now in conversion will push the percentage up to 4.4% by 2025.
Distribution of organic vineyards in France in 2009 (Source: Office for organic agriculture)


Number of vineyards
Hectares in organic
% of total land farmed
Hectares in conversion





















It is indispensable to assess the quality of wines critically, objectively and with no preconceived ideas--neither positive nor negative.
Two points should be noted:
First, at a session of a national competition for organic wines we discretely introduced 15 conventional wines that had obtained awards in other competitions (5 gold medals and 2 silver medals). Ten of these wines had also been highly praised in specialised reviews and guides. Of these fifteen conventional wines, only three won medals in the organic competition.
Second, the exceptional, internationally recognised level of quality of some organic producers should be noted. For example: in Burgandy there is Lalou Bize Leroy, and Anne Claude Leflaive. In Alsace, Kreydenweiss and Humbrecht. In the Loire, Nicolas Joly (La Coulée de Serrant), the Huet domain, and Marc Angeli. In the Rhône there is Chapoutier, and in Provence, Hauvette. In a more ‘playful’ style there are the wines of Claude Courtois, the Bretons, Lapierre, Pithon and Richaud...not to mention all the organic wines waiting to be discovered.

Pierre Guigui