Organic wine and biodynamic wine, what are they exactly?



The organic wine industry is doing well. More and more people want to drink organic wines and are also willing to pay a higher price for it. Now is a good time to ask yourself, what is organic wine? Is there a simple answer? Yes and no.

The European Community (EU) and the United States both have formal and well-defined rules for organic viticulture.

The EU and US rules are quite similar. In the vineyard, you cannot use artificial fertilizers, pesticides or synthetic chemical herbicides. You cannot use GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

To combat and prevent diseases and pests, organic growers are allowed to use a few chemicals considered “natural”, such as copper and sulfur. You can add organic fertilizers to your soil, from animals, plants, composted grape skins, etc. Certain plant extracts, herbal teas and products made from microorganisms are also authorized.

The use of copper is very problematic, especially in Europe. It is a heavy metal and it accumulates in the ground. Research is ongoing, but as of yet there is no non-synthetic alternative to copper that works against downy mildew, a particularly difficult fungal disease. For many organic growers this is therefore a must.

The USDA National Biological Program (NOP) has a national list of permitted and prohibited substances. Likewise, the EU regulation stipulates which products you can use for spraying, fertilizing, etc. Only explicitly named products are allowed.

An organic producer will want to reduce the use of additives in the cellar. He is also obligated to do so. Certain additives and processing techniques are prohibited for organic producers. And here is the big difference between an American organic wine and a European organic wine.

In Europe, an organic producer can add sulphites to wine during winemaking and / or bottling. The authorized quantities are lower – but not much less – than for a conventional producer. Sulphites are used as a preservative to ensure that the wine reaches the consumer in good condition.

In the United States, it’s a bit more complicated. There are two categories of organic wine products in the United States:

“Organic wine” does not allow added sulphites. This does not mean that the wine is completely free of sulfur because sulfur dioxide is naturally produced during fermentation.

“Wine made from organic grapes” are also made from 100% organic grapes and you can add sulphites up to 100 milligrams per liter, which is slightly lower than what is allowed in Europe.

Very few producers are willing to take the risk of making wine without adding sulfur dioxide. Sulfur is a microbiological stabilizer and it prevents wine from oxidizing (it also has other stabilizing effects). If you don’t take any risks, you opt for the second category of organic products.

Converting to organic viticulture is a big change for the vineyard. You may lose some in the first few years, but then the vineyard often regains balance and returns to normal levels. Growers may need to be prepared for more frequent spraying, as the products they are allowed to use are “contact products” which means if it rains they are washed away and you have to spray again. . Non-organic producers can use “systemic” treatments with products absorbed by the vine and working from the inside.

The majority of producers who switch to organic do so out of the belief that it is good for the environment. They are also convinced that they will make better wine. But even more important is the fact that they want to protect their families and employees from potentially dangerous synthetics. The people most exposed to toxic pesticides are farmers.

Indeed, it is only in recent years that the fact that a producer is organic has become a selling point.

A small percentage of organic producers will also convert to “biodynamic” agriculture. It is different but has similarities to organic products. Despite their small numbers, biodynamic producers have attracted a lot of attention. This is in part due to the fact that some world famous producers are biodynamic. But also, I think, because biodynamics intrigues people. It confuses them too often.

In short, biodynamic farming is organic farming plus the principles laid out by Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s. Steiner is the founder of the anthroposophical movement. He published his guidelines for biodynamic farming to help farmers who complained that their soil was losing its health due to the use of artificial fertilizers.

In biodynamic agriculture, you want to make your vines strong so that they resist disease attacks. To help the vines, you use the so-called biodynamic preparation. The most important are named 500 and 501 and are respectively based on cow manure and finely ground quartz.

The others are herbal like horsetail, yarrow, chamomile, nettles, and dandelion. These plants are used for a reason. They have specific characteristics that will help the vine and the soil. For example, horsetail contains sulfur. An infusion of horsetail is sprayed on the vines, drying them out and protecting them from fungus attacks.

Most preparations are composted before being applied. Cow manure for the 500, for example, is put in a cow horn and buried in the ground for several months. This is perhaps why biodynamics has become the most famous. A homeopathic quantity of this composted manure is then diluted in water according to a process called dynamization and sprayed on the vineyard. The goal is to revive the soil and nourish it.

Many biodynamic producers (but not all) also take the cosmic rhythm into account. Using the biodynamic lunar calendar, they plan their work in the vineyard and in the cellar.

Organic and biodynamic viticulture also means improving biodiversity around the vineyard. If you have room, you plant trees, hedges, plants, flowers in and around your vines to create habitat for birds and insects.

Can you taste that a wine is organic?

The producers themselves often say that their wines are fresher with higher acidity, and their grapes ripen earlier. But for a consumer, it is difficult. There is certainly no “organic or biodynamic flavor” that can be identified in wines. It is still up to the winegrower to make good wine. It will never taste great just because it’s organic. But since preventative measures are the main weapon of organic farmers, they need to spend more time in the vineyard, observing and paying attention to detail. This can very well be seen in the quality of their wines.

—Britt Karlsson


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