Organic wines are becoming increasingly popular thanks to their greater vibrancy and stronger character and soul, says the head of the Princely Wine Cellars in a conversation.
When Stefan Tscheppe, Head of the Princely Wine Cellars of the Prince of Liechtenstein, talks about wine, his lively and infectious demeanor instantly makes you wish you were holding a glass of it in your hand. During our discussion, he explains whether organic wines taste better than other wines, which standards need to be met for wine to be certified as organic and which wine has a finish that tastes like cooked wild raspberries.
"No," is Tscheppe's short answer. "Organic wine - and even natural wine - is not necessarily the better wine," he says. However they do tend to have one characteristic in common: "Organic wines that are produced on a small scale are often more lively than wines that are produced on an industrial level. They have more character, more nuances." After reflecting for a moment, Tscheppe adds, "These wines continue to develop even after they reach a certain age. That's their soul."
Organically certified wine must meet international standards for how the plants are protected and how the wine is processed. However, the label doesn’t provide any information about the quality or taste of the wine, says Stefan Tscheppe. These factors are determined by the climate, the soil, the grape varieties used and the vinification.
This means that growing grapes organically is not a process whereby as much work as possible is left to nature. It would be a mistake to think that winemakers don’t need to do anything at all when making organic wines, he says, "If I put wine in a barrel and let it sit for two years, it might taste 'just like Mother Nature wanted it to,' but that's not necessarily a pleasant taste." Tscheppe laughs.
Monitoring the fermentation process, temperature and air supply is just as important as the decision of whether the wine should go into a barrel or a steel tank. "Winemaking is a bit like cooking, you have to train the wine so that you capture the taste of the terroir and find a balance between acidity, freshness, and fruitiness and saltiness," says Tscheppe.
Every once in a while, Tscheppe looks through the Princely Wine Cellars' old documents and records. "In the 17th century, vintners focused on the size of the harvest and the sugar content, and less on the taste of the wine." But even back then, they tried to protect their vines from diseases with the means that were available to them. "They couldn’t rely much on chemistry, so they had to have a strong affinity for nature and understand it well."
After World War II, chemical fertilizers, which are much more efficient, started to become widely used in vineyards. The use traditional pesticides was commonplace in viticulture until the 1970s and 1980s. This changed as concern for the environment began to increase, especially in German-speaking countries. Consumers slowly started to change their attitude to food in general and especially to wine.
The first organic wines were produced in the 1980s; however, they had a reputation for having an inferior flavor compared to conventionally produced wines. "None of the top producers in any of the wine-growing regions, so California, France or Italy, were producing organic wine back then. Most didn’t start making organic wines until after 2000," Tscheppe recalls. "And when they took that step, a large number of wine drinkers realized it was possible to produce excellent organic wines."
Tscheppe is convinced that wine is often a trend-setter. He explains that consumers today want to know how a wine is made. "Maybe even more so than for other foods and beverages," he says. "And that means that wineries can no longer get around producing organically." Although an organic label alone "doesn't sell like it used to," people now expect wine to be produced in a way that is environmentally friendly and assume that this is the case.
Terroir is a word that comes up often in the conversation. According to Tscheppe, this is ideally expressed in a wine's freshness, balance, structure and distinctiveness. "For me, a vineyard is only good if it produces distinctive wines. If the wine tastes the same as the wine produced 300 kilometers away from there, what's the point?"
Tscheppe starts to talk enthusiastically about the distinct taste of the Pinots, Chardonnays and Rieslings produced by the Princely Wine Cellars. "The Pinot has a fresh, delicate lightness to it, but finishes with a hint of cooked wild raspberry; that’s thanks to a southern wind called foehn that blows through the Rhine Valley. You won't get that anywhere else."