An In-depth look at Organic, Biodynamic and Sustainable Winemaking

03 Jul, 2018

We live in times of great morality. Times in which war is waged on plastic straws, invasions into slaughterhouses are streamed onto our social media feeds and a single documentary on Netflix can stop you from ever eating a burger again, unless it’s grown out of a Petri dish, that is.

Consumer habits are changing like never before as a result, and the good news is that there is definitely something for everyone. However, it can be hard to wade through the dietary debates and the geographic jargon to find out exactly what you want to change or support, for yourself or your surroundings. So, today we’re going to help you do that with that one thing we all know and love: wine.

While many winemakers are some of the most passionate about environmental causes, partly due to their close relationship and dependence on the earth, the wine industry on the whole, is ironically quite behind in terms of getting this across. There are many initiatives and certifications flying around in the wine world that are often hard to tell apart, that’s if they’ve not gone right over one’s head entirely.

The holy trinity of ecological viticulture are so named: Organic, Sustainable and Biodynamic. While there is much overlap within each method, there are subtle differences in process and ethos that lead to different benefits both personal and global.

So, let’s start with the most popular:

Organic Wine

Organic is the most established classification for farming of any kind; with the movement starting roughly a century ago there are now a multitude of international bodies implementing strict requirements for each little badge.

Organic farming is primarily concerned with restricting or reducing synthetic chemicals for things like fertilisers, pesticides and preservatives. While this is beneficial for the surrounding wildlife, many humans like us also take solace knowing that we aren’t glugging down some bizarre growth hormone and waking up with an extra finger.

When it comes to wine specifically, sulphur is one of the main chemical culprits, giving many people allergic reactions and, some reckon, a worse hangover. Although it cannot be removed entirely, the levels of sulphur are strictly limited depending on wine type. What many may not realise is that there can also be real benefits for the flavour of the wine too. Here are some quotes from a few of our Organic winemakers:

“Organic sites produce less fruit, which means a more intense flavour. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me they like drinking our wine because they do not feel anything the following day I would be an organic wine producer!”  – Jason O’Dea, Pig in the House.

“We all know that sulphites can cause headaches or red patches on the face and neck. By not adding them we allow our customers to avoid these reactions. In terms of flavour, the no sulphite wines will be fruitier. This will lead to wines [that are] more enjoyable, and not just easier to drink, but to digest as well. Sulphites often tend to harden tannins and acidity in the wines.” – Adrien Rognon, Cave d’Alignan Du Vent Du Neffies.

However, those little badges don’t mean everything! Of course, you can always rest assured when drinking a certified bottle that you will be drinking all natural ingredients, but there are hundreds of vineyards that do everything organically with additional measures taken to reduce their carbon footprint – yet they have no certificate whatsoever! This brings us to our next subject:

Sustainable Wine

Sustainable practice is a factor perhaps not as clear-cut, but far more important to many conscious consumers. Sustainability in winemaking is concerned most of all with reducing wastage of water and energy wherever possible as a means of reducing carbon emissions. There are certifications for this too, however they are often less recognised and consequently less sought after. That is why at Wine Rascal HQ we ask lots of questions to understand what exact measures are being taken by each of our producers before we award them our own sustainable label in our brochure. Here’s a quote from one of our producers:

“We’ve insulated our sexy stainless steel tanks with some seriously unsexy foil-coated bubble wrap. Designed our winery so we can heat and cool areas independently—often using outdoor air. Created wildlife corridors, then protected the vines from hungry furry visitors with reusable fine mesh netting. And left dead trees for raptor perches” -Daniel Speck, Henry of Pelham.

Biodynamic Wine

Finally we have biodynamic: by far the most exhaustive winemaking process. This ‘low-intervention’ method incorporates all the above, often to a greater extent than many certified vineyards, but also synchronises the process alongside cycles of our solar system. So, if you’re the kind of person who checks their horoscope every day, and trembles in fear at the news of Mercury entering retrograde – biodynamic is for you. Our producer of some stunning natural wines in Greece gives this explanation for his adoption of biodynamics:

“Our vision is to have a vineyard based on permaculture. To achieve this, first we have to pass through the biodynamics, which heal the earth, and then we can go on with permaculture; for us, biodynamics are just a transitional level between organic farming and permaculture.” -Dimitrios Kioutsoukis, Kamara Winery.

And, for those who argue the lack of scientifically proven benefits of biodynamics, or the cynics who denounce it as mere fodder for the ‘millenial’ or ‘snowflake’ generation, we give you our Australian friend Jason:

“Biodynamics is a personal choice for us and not a marketing tool. Nothing annoys an organic Biodynamic farmer more than someone claiming this as a marketing edge and producing sub-standard wines. In its worst form I have seen winemakers make this claim without being organic which sends me to tears! To understand Biodynamic farming is to understand your environment and the impact you have on the environment. As a “guardian” of this land for the remainder of my living days is a huge responsibility.”

So in summary, whether you’re looking to reduce your intake of dodgy chemicals, your carbon footprint, or go a step further to restore the earth to what it once was, there is a wine that’s perfect for you.

…and we’re sure to have it! If you like the sound of what we’re trying to offer the trade, tell your local watering hole to give us a shout for all things Organic, Sustainable, Biodynamic, Natural, Vegan, Low-Sulphur… and tasty.

Al Robertson
‘Sketchy Rascal’

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