Italy: the organic wine capital of the world
Italy is the organic wine capital of the world by one very important metric: the percentage of its surface area dedicated to organic wine grapes.
As of 2018, some 16.6% of Italy’s vineyards were organically cultivated ( Learn more57%.
Organic Wine Qualifications
For a vineyard to receive the organic wine logo in Europe, it must abide by a number of important qualifications. These include no synthetic chemicals used in the vineyards – no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides – and no genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Instead of conventional herbicides, organic wine producers grow grass between rows of grapevines, or else mechanically turn the soil. They also make use of a copper-sulfur mix to combat fungal diseases.
The Question of Copper
The use of copper has drawn criticism from environmental advocates because it can be harmful to the environment. However, some people defend the practice.
But as Silvano Brescianini of Franciacorta estate Barone Pizzini explains, “The rules governing organic viticulture stipulate lower amounts of copper than allowed in conventional viticulture, and most nonorganic producers use more copper than we do.”
The U.S.-EU Sulfite Dispute
Because the United States and the European Union have an ongoing dispute about the use of sulfites, wines that qualify for the organic label in Europe do not qualify for it in the United States.
The U.S. has the more stringent standard: wines must have fewer than 10 parts per million (ppm) of sulfites, developing naturally through fermentation, if it is to be called organic. The European Union, however, allows wines with up to 100 ppm for red wine and up to 150 ppm for white wine – and the sulfites can be added as a preservative.
Because of this, it is common for European Union organic wine producers to write “made with organic grapes” on the back label when exporting to the United States.
The Quest for Sustainability in Italian Wineries
There are more and more Italian wineries claiming to employ sustainable practices. They cite safeguarding the environment, lowering carbon and water footprints, and creating good social and corporate practices among their concerns.
The key issue here is that at present, there are no international sustainability protocols for the wine industry.
A trade organization called Equalitas has emerged to help fill the void. The organization is a certifying entity that has played a pioneering role in the sustainability movement.
Michele Minelli, co-owner of Salcheto in Tuscany, Italy, says that Equalitas “is working tirelessly with international institutions to create standards to officially define and regulate sustainability in the industry.”