In a bustling, hectic city like Hong Kong, it’s not surprising that many seek balance and wellness during their off hours. This includes fitness rituals such as practising yoga, eating sustainably and organically and even drinking healthier, with the organic, biodynamic and natural wine movements picking up steam.
What’s notable about these global wine movements is that they have been largely driven by consumers rather than the trade. Originating in France in the 1960s in response to the big, heavily oaked wines that Robert Parker favoured, this wine category is no longer merely a niche market, but one that dominates wine lists from Paris to Tokyo.
However, when it comes to organic wines, it may be easy to overlook the fact that while some producers go through the trouble of getting a stamp of certification, many – especially more established wineries – don’t bother with the process owing to the bureaucracy involved. According to Berry Bros. & Rudd Wine Director Mark Pardoe, “Upwards of 80 per cent of our portfolio is organic, yet hardly any are certified because they [wine producers] don’t do it for certification. The process of growing grapes organically is the way to get the best fruit to make the best wine.”
Despite the inconsistency in labelling within the industry, with events and wine lists dedicated to this category, it’s no wonder that drinkers are keen to ask for these type of wines, particularly when it comes to natural wines. What is surprising is that while consumer perception of natural wines is high, most don’t realise that, unlike organic wines, there is no industry certification for natural wines and no universally agreed-upon definition for what constitutes a natural wine. Generally perceived as made using little or no sulphites, according to The Oxford Companion to Wine, natural wines are usually produced from small, independent growers using minimalist or non-interventionist measures, using hand-picked grapes and sustainable, organic or biodynamic viticulture.
While in comparison to other wine-loving regions, Hong Kong can be slower on the uptick on wine trends, the demand for organic and sustainably produced wines has been steadily increasing, according to Jean-Loup Thomazo, owner of importer Natural Organic Wine & Spirits. As a distributor to heavyweights including Caprice, 8½ Otto e Mezzo BOMBANA, Frantzén’s Kitchen, Black Sheep Restaurants and a host of hotels and members’ clubs, in the past four years of operation he has seen a steady increase in demand for these wines. While there remains a niche market for organic food and wine, Thomazo attributes the target audience, consisting mainly of informed wine drinkers who want “good wine period and want to drink less sulphites and additives”, to the growth.
For budding wine enthusiasts interested in learning more about sustainably made wines, Polygon Cafe in Sai Ying Pun has recently launched a biodynamic wine series. Albeit with a serious-sounding name, the programme is casual and informative. In partnership with Thomazo at Natural Organic Wine & Spirits, the series aims to showcase wines from various regions, with an informal monthly tasting on the last Thursday evening of each month ($150/person). For a reasonable price, attendees get a whiff of what a wine masterclass is like, with Thomazo providing an informative tutorial on the differences between conventional, organic, biodynamic and natural wines, a brief primer on the wine region that month and the different producers featured that evening. The wines are available by the bottle and the glass and are rotated monthly.
At a recent Burgundy-themed event, we tasted three wines, consisting of a Chardonnay and two Pinot Noirs side by side. Although all were organic, biodynamic and produced as naturally as possible, interestingly none were technically natural by Thomazo’s definition as they had minimal amounts of sulphites. The 2015 Pierre Vessigaud Chardonnay was a Mâcon-Fuissé blend, oaky with a green apple aroma and a bright, nearly sour acidity that called for food. The two Pinots were different styles – a 2015 Louis Chenu Burgundy that was young, aromatic and perfumed and a 2008 Patrick Hudelot Premier Cru from Chambolle-Musigny with a bit more substance, a tannic structure and a lingering red and black cherry finish with complex layers.
Overall, the wines were of high quality despite being at different price points, and I would not be able to distinguish them from conventionally produced wines. Nevertheless, there is something pleasing about drinking good wines that have been produced organically using sustainable methods.
Ultimately, whether you think of the categories of organic, biodynamic and natural wines as a trend, consumers are increasingly more vocal about how their wine is made and producers are listening. With established vignerons in Burgundy and even chateaux in Bordeaux changing their practices given the motivation to yield better fruit and produce better-quality wines, only time will tell whether people’s tastes will indeed change and whether the average wine drinker will evolve and come to discern the differences between conventionally and sustainably produced wines. Until then, we’ll happily focus on seeking wines that taste good and that are good for us.
Polygon Cafe, 14 Second Street, Sai Ying Pun, 2915 8878
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.