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The Importance of Organic Audits and Wine Quality: Why Bother?

It’s that time of year again - the annual organic audit. Between bottling wines and cider, and serving up tasting paddles to cellar door visitors, we’re collecting all the vital information tucked away in files, diaries and odd corners.


Why?


It’s a small step to making a big difference in improving biodiversity and protecting the environment and wildlife.


As part of Mountford Wines’ commitment to organic winemaking, we go through a strict review and inspection process each year. Despite the demand for organic wine growing in Australia, many people we talk to always say why bother? After all, maintaining a certified organic standard is hard work - and for most small business owners, time is in short supply. But you have to put your money where your mouth is.


For Mountford Wines, that means treading lightly on this earth.


Let’s dig into how this translates to sustainable winemaking and the benefits and challenges of organic vineyard management.



Certified Organic Wine Production


Interestingly, not all organically produced wines are certified organic.


Anyone can throw around the terms ‘certified’, ‘organic’ or ‘spray-free’, but to comply with organic standards, you have to walk the talk.


It’s why we carry on with the mid-winter mayhem.


Annual audits ensure we’re continuously meeting the Australian organic certification standards. By doing this, our customers can trust we meet the strict requirements - from farming and sourcing the ingredients, to manufacturing and processing, all the way through to the point of sale.


This process is highly regulated with standards for vineyard management, sustainable winemaking practices and labelling requirements. Everything must be organic, from planting the seeds to bottling the wine. Certification takes years of commitment and demands effort and audits to comply.


Our organic winery has undergone this certification process since 2000, when we became the first NASSA Certified Organic winery in Pemberton. In 2006 we earned the title of Certified Organic Producer.


Maintaining certified standards - Why trust organic?


We want what’s best for you and the environment.


In doing so, we maintain product integrity and build trust with consumers who prioritise fine wine and quality local produce. It shows our dedication to handcrafting wines and cider that nurture the earth.


The term ‘certified organic’ means the vineyard and winery are assessed by an independent body. In our case, NASAA (National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia). It protects consumers who have a right to get what they pay for and keeps us compliant and on our toes, ensuring we don’t slack off with our winemaking practices.


Nothing like someone gazing over your shoulder now and then to keep you on the straight and narrow!


It’s also a good resource when we want to check inputs or methods. Organic horticulture and agriculture is a fast-changing landscape with a constant supply of new products. You can’t always rely on what sales reps tell you, especially with such tight standards to adhere to.


What it means for our wines

  • Minimal intervention, maximum flavour

  • Natural winemaking techniques

  • Carbon-positive winery and vineyard

  • Organic integrity from vineyard to bottle

Embracing Sustainable Winemaking Practices


Sustainability is key to organic vineyard management as organic farming is about building up humus in the soil. This involves taking carbon from the atmosphere and putting it into the ground where it belongs.


Humus is an essential nutrient-rich resource for healthy soil. In Australia, our soils had around 5% of carbon. Now this figure is only 1%, making it a valuable opportunity to maintain healthy ecosystems in the vineyard. Increasing the soil carbon content can reverse the decline and enhance soil fertility.


We do this by:

  • Using organic matter such as compost, mulch and cover crops to improve soil structure

  • Improving carbon sequestration by rotating crops

  • Partnering with nature for organic pest and disease management

  • Implementing carbon farming practices

  • Minimising environmental impact through water and energy conservation




Organic Vineyard and Winery Compliance Requirements


Compliance requirements for wineries in Western Australia vary depending on the specific certification body and its standards.


With NASAA, some of the areas they assess in our organic audits are:


Vineyard

  • Grape growing methods and the types of fertilisers, weed control and sprays we use for fungal and pest control

  • Spray and input diaries

  • Cultivation methods

  • Spray shed and fertiliser storage

  • Apple orchards and avocados

  • Chickens and their housing and cleanliness, as well as number per hectare and certified feed

Winery

  • Every path that our wine and cider take must be documented and verified. One or two of the wines/ciders are chosen by the auditor to check the production parameters are being adhered to

  • Labels are checked and set off for periodic assessment


We’ve had three different auditors over the years - all have been highly aware of what to look for in terms of compliance. As you can imagine, it’s a bit of a minefield for them! Experience is the key, as following a thread like wine or cider from different vintages to barrel maturation can get very convoluted.” - Andrew Mountford, Winemaker

The Challenges of Organic Vineyard Management


Naturally, organic growing is a better choice for the earth. This impact of organic practices is seen in the environment and tasted in the unique flavour and quality of our wines. It’s exciting - but organic growing is also hard.


The main challenge is keeping up with the workload. Organic growing is an exact science - and mistakes can’t be easily recovered from.


Additionally, we keep preservatives to an absolute minimum or none at all. This challenges the winemaker as you can’t reach for the instant chemical fix. For example, no addition of copper before bottling. While this can be useful for stabilising the wine and removing unpleasant aromas, the inevitable residual copper in your drink has negative effects.


Our Commitment to Organic Practices


The annual audits play a pivotal role in our commitment to organic practices. It’s our way of fulfilling our sustainable values and giving our customers quality products made with integrity. But there is always more we can do to reduce our footprint.


To further limit our emissions, we plan to implement the following improvements:

  • Fewer preservatives: Our experience has taught us to go slowly and it was a challenge to entirely cut out the addition of sulphur in our ciders, but we managed it. The wines are also getting there with two completely preservative-free, while our other wines have the bare minimum in line with the certification standards

  • Limit sulphur sprays in the vineyards: We’ve halved the use of sulphur sprays and hope to limit them further. Copper sprays have also been heavily reduced without any spray in 4 years

  • Increase beneficial microbes: This is for the canopy and soil in all crops to enhance the grape, apple, cider and wine quality

  • More poultry: Continuing and increasing the number of chickens in our vineyard and orchards, as well as adding some ducks and geese

Want to taste the difference?


Shop our collection of certified organic wines and ciders below.



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