Organic wine is booming in Italy. In fact, the country is the world leader in terms of the percentage of surface area dedicated to organic wine grapes.
According to Nomisma Wine Monitor, based on data supplied by industry sources (Sinab, Eurostat and Fibl) as of 2018, 16.6% of Italy’s vineyards were organically cultivated, which accounted for 26% of the world’s organically farmed vineyards. From 2013–2018, the country’s organic vineyard area increased 57%, according to the report.
To receive Europe’s green organic wine logo, certified wineries must abide by a series of regulations that include a ban on synthetic chemicals in the vineyards and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Instead of herbicides, producers let grass grow between rows or mechanically turn the soil. They also use a copper-sulfur mix to fight fungal diseases.
Though copper, a heavy metal that can harm the environment, has come under fire, some say such criticism is unfair when it comes to organic farming.
“The rules governing organic viticulture stipulate lower amounts of copper than allowed in conventional viticulture, and most nonorganic producers use more copper than we do,” says Silvano Brescianini of Franciacorta estate Barone Pizzini. “And currently, there isn’t an efficient organic alternative.”
A dispute between the United States and European Union over sulfites means organic wines imported here won’t have the organic European seal. In the U.S., only wines with less than 10 parts per million (ppm) of sulfites that develop naturally during fermentation can be called organic. European standards allow up to 100 ppm for reds and 150 ppm for whites added as a preservative.
As a result, most organic European Union producers write “made with organic grapes” on the back label.
A growing number of Italian wineries claim to employ sustainable practices that safeguard the environment, lower their carbon and water footprints, and create good social and corporate practices. However, there are no international guidelines that define and regulate sustainability protocols in the wine business.
“Equalitas is working tirelessly with international institutions to create standards to officially define and regulate sustainability in the industry,” says Michele Minelli, co-owner of Salcheto in Tuscany. It was among the first nine wineries to be certified sustainable in 2018 by Equalitas, a trade organization and certifying entity that has emerged as a pioneer in the sustainability movement.
Here are top certified organic and sustainable estates to seek.
Franciacorta, in Italy’s Lombardy region, is noted for ageworthy, structured metodo classico sparklers made predominantly from Chardonnay and Pinot Nero. Barone Pizzini, whose vibrant, savory wines boast a classic combination of structure and elegance, was the first estate here to switch to organic viticulture in 1998.
In the mid-1990s, Silvano Brescianini, co-owner and managing director of Barone Pizzini, made the decision after he attended a seminar by a company selling agricultural products to combat fungal diseases.
“I was a restaurateur before managing the winery and wanted to learn everything I could about vine diseases and how to fight them,” he says. “I was horrified when a company representative pointed out that the product ‘could be dangerous,’ as it was a known carcinogen.” Immediately, Brescianini began to phase out harsh chemicals.
Now, almost 70% of the denomination’s firms are certified organic or in the conversion process.
Situated in the village of Barolo, Brezza makes classic wines from native grapes Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto. Founded in 1885, Brezza is one of the village’s oldest firms. Enzo Brezza and his cousin, Giacomo, are the fourth generation to run the family firm.
Brezza owns property in some of the village’s most lauded vineyard sites, including the historical heart of Cannubi, Sarmassa and Castellero, turning out textbook Barolos that boast body and earthy elegance.
The firm has shunned chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides for years. Instead, it allows grass to grow between rows and turns the soil beneath the plants. Enzo also switched from tractors to four-wheeled quads, which are gentler on the Langhe’s erosion-prone soil.
The vineyard was converted to organic farming in 2010, and it became certified in 2015. Enzo says he switched to organic for the health of both himself and his workers. The other goal was “to keep the land in excellent health for future generations.”
Fattoria La Rivolta
Located in Torrecuso, in Campania’s Benevento province, Fattoria La Rivolta makes stunning, savory wines with native grapes. The farm’s hilly vineyards boast a winning combination of limestone and clay that lends structure, while the high altitudes keep grapes fresh.
Its vibrant, savory whites, made with Greco, Falanghina, Coda di Volpe and Fiano, come from the Sannio denomination’s Taburno subzone, as does the firm’s red made with Piedirosso. The estate’s structured, flagship red hails from Aglianico del Taburno, essentially the same area, but a separate denomination.
Fattoria La Rivolta was part of larger holdings owned by the Cotroneo family since the beginning of the 19th century. Paolo Cotroneo, joined by his sister, Gabriella, and cousin, Giancarlo, launched this family-run firm in 1997, and they switched over immediately to organic farming methods. Starting with the 2001 harvest after the mandatory conversion period, all the grapes produced on the estate’s nearly 72 acres under vine are certified organic.
The recipient of Wine Enthusiast’s 2019 Wine Star Award for European Winery of the Year, Tasca d’Almerita is owned by one of the oldest winemaking families in Sicily, as the Tascas acquired their lush Regaleali estate in 1830. Besides its elegant, terroir-driven wines, the producer helped spearhead the island’s sustainability movement.
Tasca d’Almerita’s debut 1970 vintage of Rosso del Conte, made with Nero d’Avola, Perricone and other native red grapes, was the first single-vineyard wine in Sicily. It was also one of the first wines destined for lengthy aging.
In the 2000s, the firm invested in wineries across varying areas of Sicily, like Sallier de La Tour and Tascante on Mount Etna, and Capofaro on Salina. It also vinifies Grillo grapes grown on the island of Mozia.
Today, Alberto Tasca is the company’s CEO, and his dedication to sustainability led to the creation of SOStain, an association of like-minded Sicilian producers. Launched in 2010, its certified members must meet 10 strict requirements that mandate that the impact of treatments on the environment, farmers and consumers are equal to or lower than equivalent practices used in organic farming.
Founded in 1990 by husband-and-wife team Antonio and Roberta Stelzer, Maso Martis makes radiant, pristine bottle-fermented metodo classico wines from Chardonnay and Pinot Nero. Located in Martignano, which sits at the foothill of Mount Calisio above the city of Trento in northern Italy, the winery bottles mineral-driven, elegant wines under the Trento DOC collective brand, like its vibrant, chiseled Dosaggio Zero Riserva.
Maso Martis’s high-altitude vineyards, 1,476 feet above sea level, impart finesse and freshness, while the marked day-night temperature changes encourage grapes to develop intense aromas and flavors. Mountain breezes also help to keep grapes healthy.
Organic farming was a no-brainer for Maso Martis, both to protect the environment and safeguard the health of the grapes. The firm became certified organic in 2013, and it also buys grapes exclusively from other small, organic farmers.
The small Lugana denomination, on the shores of Lake Garda, turns out savory, structured whites made with native grape Turbiana. The area spans five towns across the Veneto and Lombardy regions: Peschiera del Garda in Veneto, and Desenzano, Sirmione, Pozzolengo and Lonato in Lombardy.
Lake Garda creates an unusually mild microclimate for northern Italy, but organic farming is a challenge due to its combination of clay soils and humidity. Of the denomination’s 116 wineries, only eight are certified organic. One of them is Marangona.
“Turbiana has compact bunches and is susceptible to diseases like downy mildew and botrytis, so organic grape growing isn’t easy, but it is possible,” says Alessandro Cutolo, Marangona’s owner and winemaker. He began to experiment with organic methods in 2012 and was encouraged when grape quality improved. The firm, which has many vines more than 35 years old, became certified in 2017. Marangona’s range of delicious Luganas boast elegance, purity and depth.
One of Chianti Classico’s most celebrated estates, Fontodi is located in the Conca d’Oro valley just south of Panzano, in the heart of the denomination. There, intense sunlight, high altitudes and the unique combination of limestone soils (alberese) and flaky schist (galestro) provide ideal growing conditions for temperamental Sangiovese.
Run by Giovanni Manetti, whose family purchased the property in 1968, the firm makes full-bodied reds that boast structure, finesse and longevity. Prime examples are its Chianti Classico Vigna del Sorbo Gran Selezione and Flaccianello della Pieve, a Colli della Toscana Centrale bottling.
The family has two main businesses, terracotta production and winemaking, which collide in Fontodi’s balsamic, mineral-driven red, Dino, that’s vinified in clay amphora.
Manetti, a believer in the greatness of Sangiovese and the Panzano growing zone, began to farm organically in 1990.
“Back then, organic farming was considered a hippie trend, so for years I didn’t bother getting certified,” says Manetti, who obtained organic certification in 2008.
Brunello di Montalcino
It’s situated below the hamlet of Sant’Angelo in Colle and used to be part of a single estate, Fattoria di Sant’Angelo. In 1958, the property was divided into two estates: Col d’Orcia and Il Poggione. Fifteen years later, Count Alberto Marone Cinzano purchased Col d’Orcia.
Run today by Count Francesco Marone Cinzano, Col d’Orcia is one of Montalcino’s most innovative firms. It pioneered research into local grape Sangiovese and was among the first to understand the important role of the vineyards, demonstrated by its compelling, single-vineyard bottling Poggio al Vento. Starting with the 1982 vintage, the label is only made in exceptional vintages.
Now the largest organic wine-producing farm in Tuscany, Col d’Orcia was converted to organic agriculture methods in 2010. It became certified in 2013.
Sergio Mottura’s 321-acre estate lies in Civitella d’Agliano, in Lazio’s Viterbo province. On the border with Umbria and located in the Orvieto denomination, the namesake winemaker turns out full-bodied whites made with the area’s native grapes, namely Grechetto, but also Procanico, Verdello and Rupeccio. It also crafts bottlings made with international grapes. Grown in volcanic soils, the firm’s savory, mineral- driven wines boast finesse and complexity.
One of the area’s quality pioneers, Mottura helped put dry Orvieto on the map. His structured, savory, single-vineyard 100% Grechetto Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) wines, in particular his Latour a Civitella fermented in oak, have proven the impressive potential of this ancient variety.
At 21, Mottura took over the family farm in 1963, and he focused immediately on the area’s traditional grapes. In the early 1990s, he switched to organic viticulture, and the estate became certified organic in 1995. “After years of organic farming, the porcupines returned and are now the symbol of our estate,” says his son, Sebastiano.”
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Located in Montepulciano in the Siena province, Salcheto was a pioneer in Sangiovese back when other estates planted international grapes to blend into Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. It has been a trailblazer in organic, sustainable and biodynamic farming and winemaking.
Led by its founder and winemaker, Michele Manelli, the winery has long banned harsh chemicals in the vineyards and became certified organic in 2005. It also follows the principles of biodynamic viticulture.
Salcheto’s wines ferment with native yeasts, and Manelli never adds sulfites during fermentation. The firm’s young and fruity Obvius line, which is USDA organic, doesn’t have any added sulfites at all.
For Salcheto’s elegantly structured, ageworthy Vino Nobiles, Manelli adds minimal sulfites after fermentation. He stays below the standards for organic viticulture while ensuring the wines avoid oxidized notes and are suitable for long aging.
Since becoming organic, Salcheto has lowered its carbon and water footprints drastically, while maintaining biodiverse vineyards. It’s now also certified sustainable by Equalitas.