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Notes from Italy: Why Bother Making Organic Wines?
by Alison Baenen
on 04/30/09 at 11:06 AM

The second “o” in W.W.O.O.F stands for organic, and, according to the organization’s website, the group has been organically minded from the start. Before arriving in Italy, I hadn’t really considered what it takes to run an organic farm (or winery) that wouldn’t be part of non-organic farming practices. In retrospect, this was really dumb of me. W.W.O.O.F isn’t W.W.O.F for a reason: By their very nature, organic farms, which don’t rely on pesticides and herbicides, need more help than their chemical-loving counterparts.

My light-bulb moment came when we put some organic farming techniques to use on the Sangiovese vines recently. In a few weeks the vines will take off and start growing like crazy; now they have to be protected against plant killers such as bugs and mold. Since insecticides are out of the question, the winemakers at San Polino use natural defenders. In practice, the methods seem a little like voodoo.

For example, we spent a few hours going up and down the rows of vines, depositing clumps of sticks next to each plant. The sticks are home to a teeny predatory spider that takes over the vine and protects it against other bugs. They act as an all-natural insect killer, but it’s obviously a much more labor-intensive method than spraying chemicals. So why all the fuss? Is it worth it? Our hosts, who have been organic from the beginning, maintain that their grapes are healthier and stronger than those of their non-organic neighbors. More important, they produce a purer wine.

Unlike other food products, organic wine still carries a negative stigma. Serious wine drinkers write it off as the purview of aging hippies who like their wine with a hint of patchouli on the nose. In fact, the San Polino labels don’t mention that the wines are organic so as not to scare away costumers.

What do you look for when you buy or order a wine?