New EU organic wine rules are ‘best political compromise’, trade body

By Ben Bouckley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Wine, European union, European commission

New EU organic wine rules are ‘best political compromise’, trade body
The EU’s Standing Committee on Organic Farming (SCOF) has agreed new rules for organic wine that it claims will raise its profile within the bloc and worldiwde, in a move welcomed by a prominent group representing organic producers, despite the latter’s warning about ‘challenging’ new sulphite reduction targets.

The European Commission (EC) said in a statement that the amendment to Regulation 889/2008 would be published within the official journal in coming weeks; the announcement ends a deadlock stretching back to 2009, specifically on the issue of sulphite reduction levels.

Under the amendment’s terms, organic wine growers will be allowed to use the term ‘organic wine’ on labels for the first time, while labels must also display an EU organic logo.

Introducing the new rules, the EC said that current rules allowing producers to label products as ‘wine made from organic grapes’ did not cover the wine-making process thereafter, and that wine was the sole sector not covered by Regulation 834/2007 on organic farming standards.

Improved transparency and greater consumer recognition were two of the benefits that the organic wine industry would gain from the new regulation, according to the EC.

Wine trade boost

The new rules would help the organic wine trade within the EU, and also strengthen producers’ position on the international stage, the EC said, given that the US, Chile, Australia and South Africa had already established similar standards.

Dacian Ciolos, EU Commissioner for Agriculture & Rural Development, said: “I am delighted that we have finally reached agreement on this dossier, as it was important to establish harmonised rules guaranteeing a clear offer to consumers who are more and more interested in organic products.

“I am pleased that we emerge with rules that make a clear difference between conventional and organic wine – as is the case with other organic products. As a result, consumers can be sure that any ‘organic wine’ will have been produced using stricter production rules.”

The IFOAM EU Group (which represents more than 300 organic concerns in the EU) welcomed the new rules as the “best political compromise possible”​, and said organic producers had long-awaited the opportunity to label products as ‘organic wine’.

Uwe Hofmann, German member of IFOAM EU Wine Expert Group, said: “The new rules are a good compromise, even if sulphite reduction levels will be a challenge for organic wine producers in some EU countries from Central Europe.

“We now have to monitor the impact of the new rules and to make sure that organic wine producers can apply the regulation EU wide.”

Sulphite controversy

Wines naturally contain sulphites (SO2) which are a natural byproduct of fermenting yeasts present on grape skins, but many winemakers believe that stable wines require added sulphites to prevent oxidation or bacterial spoilage, and to preserve natural flavour.

Oenological practices covered by the new regulation amendment include substances added to organic wines, defined by the Wine Common Market Organisation (CMO) Regulation 606/2009.

Where producing organic wine with organic grapes is a given, this text states that sorbic acid and desulfarication are not allowed, while suphite levels in organic wine must be at least 30-50mg per litres lower than conventional equivalents, depending on residual sugar content.

Specifically, maximum sulphite levels for organic red wine are now 100mg per litre (150mg/l for conventional wine), 150mg/l for white/rosé (200mg/l conventional), with a 30mg/l differential required where residual sugar content is more than 2g/l.

In its 2004 Organic Action Plan, the Commission undertook to establish specific organic rules for all agricultural production, including wine-making, and subsequently financed the ‘OrWine’ research project.

This led to the tabling within SCOF of legal proposals defining organic wine in June 2009, but the EC said disagreements over maximum sulphite levels meant a revised draft was not approved until February 8 2012.

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