Organic and Biodynamic Wines
Organic foods are becoming more and more popular as consumers are educated about the dangers synthetic fertilizers and pesticides pose to our environment and to our personal health. We love picking up organic produce from small farmers at the farmer’s market, so why, in the world of wine, are organic wines often incorrectly assumed to be sub-par?
Small organic producers offer everything we love in a wine; small production volume, producers who care about the environment of their estates and interfere as little as possible with the grapes in the fields and in the winery to ensure a true expression of the grape and the local terroir. Terrior is the French term which refers to the taste of a place. Wine is an incredible vehicle for flavors imparted by climate, soil and flora and fauna. For example, Chardonnay grapes grown in the Napa valley versus those grown in Chablis are very different in flavor and body even when handled in a similar fashion. The idea of the taste of a specific place is the basis of the French Appellation Controlee system, which emerged in the 1920’s. Nicolas Joly, one of the foremost authorities on the biodynamic movement in France puts it well when he states “the taste of a wine can only be original and inimitable if it is the full expression of a specific terroir.” These are the wines we love and they are the wines we seek to introduce to our customers.
The regulations for organic certification vary from country to country, but in general farms must adhere to strict guidelines that involve the use of renewable resources, conservation of soil and water, and ban most conventional pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, ionizing radiation, use of sewage sludge, and genetic engineering. The Biodynamic movement takes organic farming principles one step further. In the same way that the farmer’s almanac takes into account atmospheric, solar, lunar, and astrological conditions, so do Biodynamic producers extend their environmentally and naturally driven attentions.
The Biodynamic producer has a wider all-encompassing idea of what terroir really means. It includes not only the soil of a place, but the microorganisms, animals, insects, birds, flowers, water and atmosphere.
They allow natural grasses and flowers to grow up around their vines, providing groundcover and natural fertilizer. Biodynamic producers not only use natural compost, they use natural compost from their own animals, animals that eat only feed grown on the same property, thereby completing the local cycle of life. Often the animals are allowed to simply roam free among the vines for the ultimate in “natural” fertilization. Homeopathic treatments, especially teas are used as pesticides and fungicides. A great example of a natural pesticide is the use of a portable chicken coop installed in places where there are snails.
These winemakers naturally ferment their wines with indigenous wild yeasts, and extend the wines’ contact with these yeasts to reduce the need for added sulfur. As little sulfur as possible is added to the wines, sometimes no sulfur.
In the winery, minimal or natural clarification from the settling of the sediment prevents the stripping of flavor, and old, large barrels are used so as not to impart strong woody flavors which can overpower the wine’s true character. The ultimate goal in both organic and biodynamic production is a “truer” and “more authentic” wine.