“Sommeliers need training” on organic wine, according to Spain’s producers

Staff in the on-trade need “more training” on organically-grown wines to promote their quality, according to one third generation winemaker hoping to transform Spain’s approach to viticulture.

“No one knows what these words mean,”  Esther Pinuaga, the head winemaker of her family’s estate in Toledo, Spain, tells me over the phone. We’re discussing biodynamics and low-interventions, the new buzzwords in the Old World.

Once the pursuit of purist viticulturalists, the popularity of organic winemaking has risen significantly in the past few years.

Last year, research firm Nomisma published its Wine Monitor study. Organic viticulture has nearly tripled in Europe in one decade. Now with over 293,000 hectares, Europe is the world’s ethical wine powerhouse, hosting 88% of all organic viticulture.

Pinguaga’s estate has produced organic wine for years, but said that when the European Union provided revised its criteria for certification and guaranteed that producers could display their organic credentials on bottle labels, they decided to go official, a process which took three years.

“You have to have external judges come to see your facility and everything you do,” she said, “it’s very rigorous.”

Now, the EU is set to change its regulations again, rebranding the labelling in a bid to make the point of difference clearer to consumers.

“Most people assume it’s already made naturally when it’s from Spain,” she said, explaining the extend of the mystery consumers face in the domestic wine trade alone.

In London, organic wine is beginning to pick up pace with a younger, liberal audience. In the UK on-trade, 38% of wine lists now include at least one organic, biodynamic or natural wine, according to Bibendum’s 2018 trend report published in February.  “This is unprecedented growth considering this time last year only 10% of lists included these categories,” it said.

This month a new bar is set to open in Covent Garden — Lady of the Grape — which specialises in organic and biodynamic wines made by female vintners.

Owner Carol Bryon, who worked as an art director in various advertising agencies before running The Grocery Wine Vault shop in Shoreditch, said that due to the rise in popularity of natural and biodynamic wines in recent years, transparency in the industry is more important than ever.

“It’s important to offer transparency with what is in wine.”

“As there are no ingredients listed on the back of the bottle, like with other edible products, I think certification is important. Customers can rely on this and we all know organic, biodynamic and natural wines are healthier for the people drinking it and for the producer making it.”

However Pinuaga; who heads up European trade body Spanish Organic Wines, says that while those on the production side of things are changing their attitudes, the on-trade has a long way to catch up if they want to sell more to consumers.

“There are a lot of terms people use in the industry to describe different kinds of ethical production,” she said. “There’s organic and biodynamic, and also natural and even vegan wine, and it can be very confusing for the consumer.”

The recent surge in bars and restaurants selling natural wines — those which are made with as few artificial components as possible and are often hazier than their traditional counterparts — can make the low-intervention category feel intimidating to consumers.

“The problem is there is no legal definition of natural wine,” she said, “it could be made any way and still have the word ‘natural’ on the bottle.”

Pinuaga is planning to educate the nation’s service staff through a series of masterclasses in cities such as Madrid and Barcelona where SPW can “work with local associations of sommeliers” to raise the general level of knowledge in the on-trade.

Sommeliers and buyers, she said, need to see the intensive labour that goes into organic viticulture to see it from her point of view, that securing organic certification “isn’t just a commercial thing.”

“We’re not doing this to make money,” she said, “We’re doing it because we want to leave the world a better place for the next generation of winemakers.”

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