Wine Without Walls is a blind wine tasting competition created by VinItaly International as part of its wider 5Star (‘Five Star’) competition. The wines can come from anywhere in the world, not just from Italy. The Wine Without Walls category is concerned solely with Biodynamic, organic and natural wines. 

Wine Without Walls 5Star Wines 2019 Entry criteria

Wines entering in Wine Without Walls 2019 – still wines, semi-sparkling wines, sparkling wines, and fortified wines – must adhere to the following rules:

Work in the vineyard must be guided by the objective of enabling vines to build as far as possible a natural resistance to common adversities, such as soil and air-borne pests and diseases, and climatic disorders. Viticultural practices must encourage the development and retention of a diverse and beneficial micro-biology as possible, on vine roots, vine trunks, the leaves and of course the grapes via cover cropping, composting, mulching or microbial sprays.

The wine must be from grapes certified as 100% organic or certified Biodynamic (by Demeter, respekt-BIODYN, or the Syndicat International des Vignerons en Culture Bio-Dynamique (SIVCBD, logo ‘Biodyvin’) or from grapes that the producer claims would have qualified for organic certification had such certification been sought, meaning no herbicides, no soluble NPK fertilizers, no systemic sprays, and no treatments banned under organic rules have been used for 36 months prior to the grapes for the wine in question being harvested.

The wine must be from grapes processed into wine without recourse to micro-oxygenation, reverse osmosis, thermo-vinification, must concentration, chaptalisation, PVPP, flash pasteurization, or the addition of any of the following: pectolitic enzymes, DAP, thiamin, ascorbic acid, sorbic acid.

The wine must be from grapes whose alcoholic fermentation or fermentations in the case of sparkling wines, and whose malolactic fermentation (where applicable) occur naturally, meaning without recourse to extraneous (eg. commercially prepared) yeast cultures. Fermentation triggered using a ‘pied de cuve’ generated from estate grapes is permitted.

Fortified wines must be fortified with certified organic or Biodynamic grape spirit.

Wines entering Wine Without Walls – still wines, semi-sparkling wines or sparkling wines – must have the following characteristics as regards sulfites:
total quantity of sulfites (sulfites produced naturally from alcoholic fermentation + added sulfites) of no more than 50 mg/l.

Once admitted, the wines will be divided into the following categories:

  1. Wines without added sulfites.
  2. Wines with added sulfites whose total level of sulfites (sulfites produced naturally from alcoholic fermentation + added sulfites) is no more than 50 mg/l.

Wine Without Walls 5Star Wines 2019 Report

Changes to the 2019 edition made by the Wine Without Walls Scientific Director Monty Waldin (whose blog this is) included raising the maximum permitted level of total sulfites from 40 to 50 milligrammes per litre, and removing the ban on the blocking of malolactic fermentation. The aim was to provide a broader church both for wine producers and consumers, not all of whom buy wine on sulfite levels alone. The judges were publisher, importer and retailer Christopher Barnes of Grape Collective in New York; Mark Cuff, founder of The Living Vine in Toronto, Canada, a specialist importer of organic, natural and Biodynamic wines; wine educator and retailer Gill Gordon Smith of Fall from Grace from McLaren Vale in Australia, and Richard Kershaw MW (the panel chair) who has his own eponymously named winery in the Elgin region of South Africa.

Despite predictions that the organic, natural and Biodynamic wine-growing category would be nothing but a passing fad, it not only continues to grow, but is showing signs of increased maturity and coherence in terms of its organizational and communication capabilities. More space is being given to organic, natural and Biodynamic wine producers in wine bars and restaurants, government monopolies and supermarket chain stores, and private cellars. The world’s biggest shop – Amazon – now owns one of the biggest purveyors of organic produce in Whole Foods. This reflects both a desire to drive margin from well-to-do, health-conscious (if not always environmentally friendly…) consumers, and that the supply of such wines will continue to increase.

The leading international wine trade fairs are also waking up to vinous greenery, not least of course VinItaly which continues to provide a dedicated and growing area to the category, called Vinitalybio. This suggests that what not so long ago was considered ‘alternative’ at best and an unnecessary indulgence at worst is here to stay.

Italy continues to be a global leader for organic, natural and Biodynamic wine production. Its surface area of certified organic and Biodynamic vineyard doubled between 2011 and 2017 and continues to grow. Italian wine-growers – both conventional and organic – are getting together at both local level – Montalcino, Panzano in Chianti, Colline Lucchesi in Tuscany – and regional level too –BioVenzia in Veneto, various initiatives in Sicily. Forming local discussion and action groups to collaborate more closely in finding individual solutions to universal challenges, the obvious one being climate change makes sense.

Distorted weather patterns create an increased risk to vineyard real estate via soil erosion and compaction caused by Amazonian force downpours for example.

Warmer temperatures encourage insects spreading potentially deadly vine viruses. Dealing with issues at local level makes economic and environmental sense and means wine growing and wine styling can be maintained more economically or adjusted more easily. Use of milk-based products, whose lactic bacteria help reduce or eliminate the use of copper-based vineyard sprays, is still very small-scale in Italy but is increasing. And the use of other effective micro-organisms via aerated compost teas for both vine and soil is also on the rise.

Creating colonies of the beneficial microbes you actively want on your vine leaves means there is less or no space left for the pathogenic microbes you would rather avoid. This self-sufficient and biodiverse approach challenges the monoculture model, not just at the individual farm level, but at a global level too. Recent supra-national corporate mergers mean the world’s six biggest pesticide companies have morphed into just three.

Do not expect such efficiencies of scale to be in farmers’ or winegrowers’ interest.

Less competition usually means higher prices for farmers and thus weakened communities, the added value being moved into the pockets of shareholders and board members in far flung lands.

Environmental sustainability and economic sustainability and social sustainability go hand in hand. Fostering this should be Italian wine’s strategic goal. One of the key aspects the Wine Without Walls judges remarked upon was the consistency and quality of the wines overall, with half of all wines submitted gaining a 90-point score or higher. The judges had a mix of backgrounds: winemaker, importer, retailer, wine educator, and Master of Wine. Their stated aim was to score wines on their coherence and enjoyability, to judge them as if they were tasting them with friends at home rather than with fellow pointy-headed wine professionals. Hence for example low- or zero-sulfite wines that some competitions would have thrown out with a ‘no score’ because they were a little ‘bretty’ or ‘mousey’ for example managed to gain high scores.

Our Wine Without Walls judges looked for enjoyment, savoriness, salinity, freshness, individuality, balance and most of all ‘whether my friends, friends and friends and family members might like to drink this wine.’ You cannot have wine competition like Wine Without Walls with judges who turn up wearing metaphorical surgeon’s overalls, stethoscope and scalpel in hand ready to dissect every last sinew of the cadaver in the bottle. Wine Without Walls by its very nature is all about alternative wine – less than 8% of the world’s wine at most would qualify as a ‘Wine Without Metaphorical Wall’ around it. We celebrate this way of judging and thinking and we actively welcome feedback both from the wine producers of course, and from those who sell these wines or share them with their respective family and friends.

We see this way of growing and making wine as the future. It is a journey that we need to make as a species, too. Diversity breeds strength and gives space to alternative views and ways of doing things. The climate is changing. We are going to have to change our behavior and expectations accordingly.