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Weeds, Corks and Copper Fuel Green Drinks Debate

June 22, 2007 — By Anna Willard, Reuters

BORDEAUX, France -- The rye used to make Juniper Green gin grows in fields full of weeds and poppies before it is distilled and flavoured with organically-grown herbs Juniper, Coriander, Summer Savory and Angelica root.

The tipple is made by a small, family-owned company, London and Scottish International, part of a growing number of drinks manufacturers tapping into the rapidly expanding market for organic products.

"People are interested in organic because it's better for the environment. It creates less carbon dioxide, encourages biodiversity," said Alex Parker, director of London and Scottish. "It's generally better for life on earth."

He launched Juniper Green, along with an organic line of vodka, gin and rum, eight years ago. It now exports to Europe, the United States and Australia and has a Royal warrant from Prince Charles which means it supplies his household.

Other companies are catching on to the trend.

Cantine Sgarzi Luigi, an Italian wine producer, launched a new range of organic wines in April, including a Pinot Grigio, Merlot, Sangiovese and Chardonnay.

"There was demand from northern Europe and Japan," said Stefano Sgarzi, general manager of the company, which also sells non-organic wines.

According to the British-based Soil Association, the global market for organic food and drink totalled 16.7 billion pounds ($33.27 billion) in 2005, an increase of 1.2 billion pounds. After North America, Europe has the largest market for organic food and drink, with Germany, Italy and Britain taking top spots.


Organic wine growers do not use pesticides or weedkillers and this makes it more expensive and labour intensive to produce because more work has to be done by hand.

Instead they use copper to ward off mildew, a process some critics say is as harmful as chemicals.

Nicolas Joly grows wine at his acclaimed French Coulee de Serrant vineyards biodynamically. This is a more radical form of organic farming in which harvests are dictated by the cycle of the moon, and plants and animal parts are used to enhance compost that will re-energise the soil.

He says his methods produce a better tasting wine and encourage nature. But he too uses copper.

"Too much copper is a drama but a little bit of copper is not a problem," he said, adding he uses about 2-3 kilogrammes of copper a year.


Another debate in the drinks industry is over packaging.

Trinchero Family Estates, a California-based wine producer, has been selling its Three Thieves Cabernet Sauvignon in a tall thin purple box, which it says is more environmentally friendly than the traditional bottle.

"It's not as heavy as a bottle which means less use of fuel and you can have many more in a container. They are easier to handle for the workers and they are made of recycled paper," said Hans Klein, a salesman for Trinchero.

But he doubts the boxes will revolutionise the industry.

"I don't think in 6 years all the bottles will be gone."

Environmental concerns also enter the debate about whether to use corks or screw-tops to close bottles.

An ingredient in cork can taint the flavour of the wine so some companies are switching to plastic corks or screw tops.

This is a concern for the World Wildlife Fund because the lack of incentive to continue producing corks is leading to the destruction of cork oak forests around the Mediterranean.

"You don't need to cut trees to produce cork. It's a very balanced production," said Paolo Lombardi, director of WWF Mediterranean. "They are a barrier against desertification."

Source: Reuters