It was not too surprising that the organic category scored higher on average than the BWI (Biodiversity & Wine Initiative) category at this week's judging of the Nedbank Green Awards – it’s where fine wine is heading and it also leads to the terroir debate.
The obvious international examples include biodynamic producer Domaine de la Romanée-Conte, one of the most prized and sexy wines on the planet, and recently Chateaux Margaux winemaker Paul Pontallier said after a five year trial ‘I hope that in two to three years we will be 100% organic’.
The interesting part is that at this point they are only converting their first growth parcels which have the best drainage, the most vigour (for cool climate), and the least sensitivity to mildew.
The shortest argument for terroir is the right variety in the right place i.e. in harmony with the environment. Once you have this in place its much easier converting to organic and biodynamic and wonderful things start happening including physiological ripeness at lower alcohols with finer tannins which all starts adding up to one of the most prized attributes – balance.
Locally Reyneke and relative newcomer Waterkloof spring to mind. Reyneke are one of few certified biodynamic producers and pioneers in South Africa so it's no surprise that they are among the most awarded by Nedbank – their vineyards are among the longest standing as biodynamic in the Cape.
Waterkloof are relative newcomers, but they started out organic and are progressing to biodynamic for one reason ‘quality’ says owner Paul Boutinot, one of the world’s more astute wine merchants. Their wines are already garnering international accolades and Paul believes he has identified Mourvèdre as the best red grape for their terroir.
This has been one of the Cape's greatest failings - working out what goes best where - but it's also one of our biggest challenges given our soil and climate diversity. Once this is in place, organic farming practices become much easier but what goes in the Helderberg may not necessarily go in Paarl.
Many more qualify for organic certification but keep a traditional weapons stock as insurance for those particularly wet years, for example, where they may risk losing an entire crop to mildew. Purists will argue these don't believe or don't have the right mindset. Others don’t wish to certify for a raft of reasons which may include it attracting unwanted attention from the less moderate or being pigeon-holed on shop floors.
* Fellow judges included Harry Haddon, Christian Eedes, Howard Booysen and chair Fiona McDonald. Results will be announced on 15 November here and on www.greenwineawards.com