Un­cov­er­ing a new se­cret

Malta Independent - - LIFESTYLE & CULTURE -

What’s bet­ter than en­joy­ing a glass of wine over din­ner with friends? We ex­plore and share our favourite op­tions for mak­ing this oc­ca­sional in­dul­gence as clean, healthy and aligned with our ev­ery­day health val­ues as pos­si­ble.

Less pow­er­ful hang­overs, no syn­thetic chem­i­cals, and kinder to the environment – no won­der or­ganic wine is pick­ing up! We talk to Mark Cas­sar and get a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the an­cient tra­di­tional Qvevri or­ganic wine­mak­ing method.

Mark started plant­ing, grow­ing and har­vest­ing or­ganic grapes in his fields in Sig­giewi around 10 years ago when he em­barked on this pro­ject − Meth­ode Qvevri, a pro­ject which fin­ished in 2014 af­ter five la­bo­ri­ous years.

What are the Qvevri?

The Qvevri, a wine­mak­ing tech­nique which has been added to the Unesco World Her­itage list, are in­creas­ingly be­ing used by pro­duc­ers across the world who pre­fer a min­i­mal in­ter­ven­tion or nat­u­ral ap­proach to their wine­mak­ing.

The Qvevris are hand­made raw ter­ra­cotta pots buried in deep holes with earth and sand packed in tightly all around in the vine­yard or nearby. While they come in many sizes the grape juice is pressed and fer­mented and re­mains in con­tact with the grape skins, from just a few days up to sev­eral months.

Wine that is pro­duced in a Qvevri will have a very dis­tinct taste com­pared to wine that is pro­duced in a wooden bar­rel: wood fire kiln im­parts an oak flavour to Qvevri wines. “Qvevri are por­ous and so closer in style to old bar­rels than stain­less steel: be­cause they are buried un­der­ground, sur­rounded by a con­stant tem­per­a­ture on all sides al­low­ing for slow, grad­ual fer­men­ta­tion and rel­a­tively sta­ble stor­age con­di­tions,” ex­plains Mark.

A grow­ing de­mand for or­ganic As we do for much of the food we con­sume, many of us look for nat­u­rally pro­duced wines to drink. Per­haps we feel that it is health­ier to en­joy wines that were made with or­gan­i­cally farmed grapes and pro­duced by nat­u­ral meth­ods with­out added chem­i­cals. Af­ter all, what we put into our bod­ies mat­ters.

To­day, more and more con­sumers are look­ing for or­ganic wines. Con­sumer de­mand has in­spired many more wine pro­duc­ers to move from con­ven­tional grape farm­ing prac­tices to more sus­tain­able ones. And once grape grow­ers be­gin to en­gage in sus­tain­able farm­ing, they very of­ten ap­pre­ci­ate the changes and con­tinue to con­vert their vine­yards to be­come fully or­ganic.

As Mark says, he is de­voted to or­ganic farm­ing meth­ods be­cause he be­lieves that they are good not only for hu­mans, but also for the environment. Pro­tect­ing the soils in which he farms is a long-term vi­sion aimed at safe­guard­ing our fu­ture food and wine sup­plies.

Farm­ing wine grapes or­gan­i­cally

More in­ter­est­ing per­haps is the con­cept of grow­ing grapes or­gan­i­cally. As for other agri­cul­tural crops, or­ganic wine grape farm­ing fo­cuses on nat­u­ral and non­in­ter­ven­tion­ist prac­tices. Chemical her­bi­cides and pes­ti­cides are for­bid­den, the use of re­new­able re­sources is prac­ticed and the con­ser­va­tion and health of the soil re­main pri­or­i­ties.

Many wine pro­duc­ers who farm or­gan­i­cally em­ploy nat­u­ral meth­ods for vine­yard man­age­ment, in­clud­ing plant­ing ben­e­fi­cial cover crops and prac­tic­ing chemical-free pest con­trol. In­deed, en­deav­our­ing to farm wine grape vine­yards or­gan­i­cally is a la­bo­ri­ous and time-con­sum­ing ven­ture. Con­ven­tional farm­ing is most of­ten eas­ier and faster and can re­sult in higher-yield­ing vine­yards.

Bet­ter for the Earth - and the bot­tle

With re­cent short­ages, the need for al­ter­na­tive en­ergy is a ne­ces­sity and the vint­ners are re­al­iz­ing that the sun not only ripens their grapes, but it pro­vides power to their winer­ies as well. Mark ex­plains how he has em­braced the rev­o­lu­tion in so­lar power and ex­plored tech­nolo­gies in ther­mal and bat­tery en­ergy stor­age; he in­stalled so­lar pan­els at his win­ery with power gen­er­ated from the sun be­ing used both in vine­yard prac­tices and in the win­ery it­self.

“I plainly be­lieve in do­ing the right thing for the earth,” says Mark. Pro­duc­ers who have ex­pe­ri­ence with both a vine­yard that

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