Organic Wines - Organic Certifications and Labels
III. What are the existing organic certifications?
As we saw in a previous article, fully converting an entire estate to organic winemaking can sometimes take years (three, give or take). The European world of wine is rich in labels and certifications, as you probably already knew by simply looking at the numerous and colorful logos often found on wine bottles. We wanted to show you some of the biggest organizations in France and Europe, explain how they function and what rules winemakers have to follow if they want to obtain their organic certifications and labels.
Keep in mind that regular organic wine, biodynamic wine, natural wine or vegan wine are not the same thing. Although the products in these four categories are centered around the environment and the consumers, the guidelines winemakers have to follow in order to obtain a specific label are different. The end products themselves, of course, also greatly vary. Let's take a look at the many wine certifications you can find in Europe.
1. Organic wine labels
The most well-known is the French AB label (which stands for "Biological Agriculture"), created in 1985. It's a registered trademark that belongs to the French ministry of Agriculture and Food. Seeing this little green logo on a bottle guarantees consumers that the wine contains at least 95% of grapes that have been grown according to the rules of organic farming. The fruits can't also contain any trace of GMO. In January 2009, the ministry aligned its AB brand with the new European Union guidelines regarding organic farming.
The European Union Organic Farming label is the European counterpart to the French AB brand and uses the same guidelines. It exists since 1992, the year the very first organic farming regulations came into effect. The most recent changes to the original texts were made in January 2009. As for the new logo (nicknamed the "Euroleaf"), it was adopted in February 2010, following a decision from the European Commission. This logo can be found on every organic product made in the EU since July 2010.
2. Biodynamic wine labels
Demeter gets its name from the Greek goddess of the harvest and agriculture. It's a German organization founded in 1927, with its very own guidelines and certification label. Demeter strictly follows the organic winemaking guidelines of each country before adding its own rules on top of them. Inspired by the philosopher and esoterist Rudolf Steiner, the Demeter label prohibits the use of chemical additives, promotes regular soil maintenance using natural preparations, limits the addition of sulphites to 70 mg/L... 90% of the grapes used to produce a wine must follow the Demeter regulations if an estate wants to get the organization's label. The remaining 10% can come from AB labelled fruits.
The Biodyvin organization has been around since 1995. Like Demeter, the Biodyvin labels obeys the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, the father of biodynamics. The vineyard is seen as a living and breathing ecosystem, whose well-being must be preserved using natural remedies (that contain various plants, minerals and organic matter). The ultimate goal is to offer high-quality wine to consumers. Today, more than 200 different wine estates follow the Biodyvin guidelines and are certified biodynamic (unlike Demeter, which can only certify individual vine parcels, not entire estates). The rules and regulations of the Biodyvin label are written by the SIVCBD (for "Syndicat International des Vignerons en Culture Bio-Dynamique") and are enforced each year by another organization called Ecocert.
3. Natural wine labels
The Vin Méthode Nature (for "natural wine method") charter, approved by the DGCCRF (the French "General Directorate for Competition Policy, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control") in March 2020, comes from a young French organization that has spent the last 10 years promoting this label reserved for natural wines. This new label has very strict rules: the entire grape production must be AB certified, harvests must be done entirely by hand, no additives are authorized, filtration is out of the question, sulphites are banned... Each winemaker has to fully commit to these restrictions and provide a COFRAC (for "Comité Français d'Accréditation") approved analysis of their wines. The organization does random controls each year as well.
The AVN, or "Association des Vins Naturels" (the "natural wine organization") has its own label. Its members can add it to their bottles if they follow their 16-steps guidelines. The organization defines natural wine as a product made using biodynamic methods only. No additives are authorized during the winemaking or bottling process. This means no filtration, no non-indigenous yeasts, no added sugar... The harvests must also be done entirely by hand.
The Vins S.A.I.N.S. (an acronym for "Sans Aucun Intrant Ni Sulfite", which means "without any input or sulphite added") is an organization created in 2010. Its in-house charter was written two years later, in 2012, and is based on three main pillars: a human dimension (maintaining a strong relationship with consumers and providing help for winemakers), the importance of nature and the vineyard (100% organic grapes, no added chemicals) and a virtuous winemaking process (indigenous yeasts only, little human intervention). The obtained S.A.I.N.S. label applies to the entire wine estate.
4. Vegan wine labels
The V-Label certification was created in 1996 in Switzerland. It's an international brand, working hand-in-hand with the EVU (the Vegetarian European Union), in association with many other vegetarian organizations in France and the world. The V-Label guarantees consumers that their wine does not contain any animal-derived ingredients. For example, the gelatin or egg yolk used to filter wine are not allowed if a winemaker wants to use the vegetarian label or the V-Label. Soil treatments are not taken into account by the V-Label guidelines.
The Vegan Society is an old British organization fighting against animal abuse founded since 1944. Like the V-Label certification, the Vegan Label offered by the Vegan Society ensures consumers that their wine is free of animal-derived ingredients. The organization also prohibits the use of GMOs obtained using animal genes. The Vegan Society actually created the very first set of rules for vegan products; it even coined the name "vegan".
The EVE Vegan certification is an international label delivered by a French organization, founded by Hélène Modrzejewski in 2016. The "EVE" stands for "European Vegan Expertise". When a wine is EVE Vegan approved it means that said wine contains no animal-based ingredients at all. The EVE Vegan label was largely inspired by the international ISO norms and it can apply to food products, cosmetics and even clothes.
5. Other organic wine actors
The HVE (for "High Environmental Value") certification is a French government initiative supervised by the Commission Nationale de Certification Environnementale (CNCE, for short). This certification is actually the third accessible level of the initative. A wine estate with an HVE certification must preserve its vineyard's biodiversity, limit the use of chemical fertilizers, take care of the soils... Regular audits are there to insure the rules are followed to the letter by the wine producers. People who campaign for the HVE label are also members of the Association Nationale pour le Développement de la Certification Haute Valeur Environnementale.
Ecocert is not a label in itself. It's a control agency founded in 1991 by William Vidal and a collective of independent agronomics engineer. The organization has its own guidelines, approved by the French government. It can intervene in many different industries, such as the food industry, cosmetics and wine. On top of certifying and promoting organic products throughout the world, Ecocert also fights for the preservation of soils, energy conservation and better work conditions for employees. The Ecocert group can certify a business and approve requests for more than 150 different labels, including Biodyvin, Demeter and Agriculture Biologique Europe.
The Fédération Nationale Terra Vitis has been promoting sustainable winegrowing and winemaking since 1998. It's an organization made of professionals that follow very strict guidelines. Terra Vitis has a very global vision of sustainable development, as its members believe it can have consequences for the environment, general society and the economic landscape. The Terra Vitis certification comes with annual controls, to make sure wine has 100% full traceability, farming remains reasoned, biodiversity is preserved, health protocols are respected...
The Vignerons Engagés (which means "committed winemakers" in English) label exists since 2010. It belongs to the Vignerons en Développement Durable organization, which is composed of winemakers who have adopted a CSR approach (which means "Corporate Social Responsibility"). It's the first CSR wine label in France. They have a list of 12 rules to follow if you want to apply for their label: preserve your vineyard's biodiversity, ration your water consumption, use less or no chemicals, make sure your ingredients are traceable, favor shorter food supply chains...
Specific to sparkling wines produced in the Champagne region, the Viticulture Durable en Champagne label was launched by the region in 2014 and promotes sustainable winemaking. The guidelines have existed since 2001 and they are quite demanding, as there are 99 rules to follow! In a way, it's an extension of the HVE rules already in effect in many vineyards. More than 15% of the Champagne vineyard is certified "Viticulture Durable".
6. The Nature & Progrès mention
The Nature & Progrès mention is a bit of an outsider is this list, as this label comes from the private sector. It was created in 1964 and is not endorsed by the European institutions for organic agriculture. Obtaining the Nature & Progrès label doesn't actually require winemakers to have an AB certification, although its guidelines are much more restrictive than the European ones. There are 18 pages of rules and regulations. In this little book, you'll find rules about using N&P or AB certified grapes only, lowering your harvests' yields, cleaning your cellar with authorized products only, never intervening during the vinification process at all, banning all kinds of sulphites, refusing the mere idea of filtration... The rules virtually encompass every aspect of winemaking, from harvest to transport.
Nature & Progrès also goes beyond the world of wine, as the organization promotes an active collaboration between winemakers, the sharing of knowledge and skills, deeper cooperation between winemakers and wine sellers, full consumer transparency, shorter supply chains, more autonomous estates, solidarity-based savings, animal well-being, natural remedies, renewable energies... and so on.
That's it for this little tour of the different organic labels and certifications available in France en Europe. While you wait for the next and last article, which will be a list of our favorite winemakers, why not take a look at some of our favorite organic wines?
You can also check out our entire organic wine catalogue. You won't be disappointed!