Don’t panic, it’s organic

Which came first the free-range chicken or the free-range egg? The egg wins according to an informal survey. My local supermarket stocks more free-range chickens than the other sort and twice the number of free-range eggs to non-free-range eggs. It also devotes a large section to organic produce. The majority of people in my local community seem happy to pay a healthy premium for an apparently healthier product.

In the wine department, however, there is no separate section for organic wines despite the growing number of wines that now sport “organic” on their front label. How much of a premium are we expected to pay for organic wine?

I found three Sauvignon Blanc producers with organic and non-organic labels from the same vintage. The organic wines commanded an average premium of 8.3%, or about $1.66 a bottle. That is significantly less than the premium we are expected to pay for organic chicken and eggs.

What do we get for the extra money we spend on free-range eggs and chickens or on organic wine? I mainly eat free-range eggs and free-range chickens because I can’t support cage farming. As a lad I would sometimes feed my auntie’s chickens. They were a friendly bunch of birds. The thought of them spending their lives in cages upsets me. The premium I pay for free-range buys me a clearer conscience. I also imagine that free-range eggs are richer and chicken meat tastier although I’ve never done a direct comparison.

Does organic wine taste better? That’s hard to say because wine has too many variables. I slightly favour Giesen’s 2012 Organic Sauvignon Blanc over their regular 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, for example, but the grapes for each are grown in different vineyards, which could explain the quality difference.

The organic wine must be made without using fungicides, herbicides and insecticides. If you are concerned about the possibility of chemical residues you need only pay a small premium. New Zealand’s organic wine list is increasing considerably.

Currently 6.8% of New Zealand’s vineyards are certified organic while another 7.6% are in the process of becoming organic. The industry expects 20% of all vineyards to be organic by 2020. Over 94% of the national vineyard is already certified as “sustainable”, an independently audited environmental program.

We’re “going green” faster than any other wine producing country. I’ll buy that.

Millton Te Arai Chenin Blanc, Gisborne 2013 – $28

James and Annie Millton pioneered the organic movement in this country. This wine is a perennial favourite while the 2013 vintage could be the best ever. It’s a dry, fragrant yet moderately weighty wine with an intriguing mix of apple, citrus, lanolin and honey flavours. A great buy at this price. – view on

Giesen Organic Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough 2012 – $19.99

Pure and pristine wine with grapefruit, lemon grass, gooseberry and a suggestion of currant bud. Ethereal and seductive Sauvignon Blanc with gentle, tangy acidity and a silken texture. Gently aromatic. – view on

Felton Road Dry Riesling, Central Otago 2013 – $28

Taut, steely Riesling with lime, wet stone/mineral and subtle rose petal and orange blossom flavours. Bone dry wine with fine, assertive acidity helping drive a lengthy finish. Great with food now (try oysters and a squeeze of lime) but will mellow and develop more toasty complexity with bottle age. – view on

First published in KiaOra Magazine – Mar 2014.

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