Organic wine is slowly finding takers
The Ule Ethnic Resort in Ladakh has been producing organic apple wine from the fruits of its apricot and apple orchards for a few years.
“This wine is made with the local Sapola apple, unique to Pakistan, Kargil and the Sham region of Ladakh. This apple gives a distinct flavor to the wine. We also use less sugar and yeast in the winemaking process and let’s add a hint of cinnamon and juniper,” says Phuntsok Wangchuk, owner of the resort.
The orchard has been entirely organic since its creation in 1972, without chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Previously the owners used the fruit from the farm for jams, juices and oils for resort visitors, but during the initial Covid-19 lockdown in 2020 they used the excess fruit to make a batch of wine because there were no guests.
“Currently, our wine sells for Rs 1,500 in Ladakh. The increased production would make the product expensive, as Sapola apples would have to be sourced from outside our orchards at a high price,” Wangchuk said.
Organic wine production has been experiencing a global boom since 2019, with annual growth of more than 20% and more than 2,000 winemakers recognized today, according to a global survey by DataM Intelligence.
In India, the market is seeing increased interest due to a few small wine producers like Naara Aaba from Arunachal Pradesh and Hill Zill Wines from Maharashtra who are using organic farming methods for their grapes or other fruits. However, it has yet to penetrate the market significantly, although consumers, especially those under 35, are receptive to it.
“Wine drinkers have heard little or nothing about organic wines because the category has yet to evolve,” said Minnie Menon, President – Terroir, The Madras Wine Club. “Liquors like the paan-flavored variety from Sikkim may be known to the few, just as organic feni may have created ripples in Goa. But to appeal to the palates of traditional wine lovers, winemakers and bottlers bio have a colossal task ahead of them.
The legal definition of “organic” in the context of wines may differ from country to country. In the EU, it is sufficient to ensure that the grape is produced organically, for it to be labeled “organic wine“. Even though sulphates – of an inorganic nature – are added during the winemaking process, it holds up. In the United States, however, if sulfates are added, wines will have to be labeled “made with organic grapes” instead of “organic wine.”
“We don’t have extensive knowledge about GMOs (genetically modified organisms), let alone ‘organic’ wine and organic certification,” said sommelier Magandeep Singh. “When it comes to wine, viticulture is organic. Winemaking always involves chemicals. Hands-off wines, which don’t use sulfates or chemicals at all, fall under a different nomenclature than wines. traditional, and are a less exact science.”
Singh thinks organic farming will become a way of life as the wine industry tries to be more sustainable and seeks longevity, but agrees cost, awareness and availability of raw materials could be issues.
“Wine companies are realizing that they have to preserve the land the grapes grow on. Most non-bulk wine is generally grown sustainably anyway,” Singh said.
(Neeti Jaychander is a journalist, writer and teacher based in Chennai, India)