In their search for high-quality wine, the conscious consumers may sometimes have to navigate terms such as organic and biodynamic or natural and low intervention. While we all know what they mean in general terms, to some of us their full meaning may still be fuzzy. So, what is inside our bottles? Let’s dig a little deeper and find out.
In this blog, I will touch on Organic and Biodynamic practices. Part 2 will follow where we will take a closer look at Low Intervention and Natural wines.
WHAT IS ORGANIC WINE
Organic farming practices avoid the use of artificial pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fertilisers in favour of controlled use of natural substances to protect the crop from natural threats such as parasites and diseases. Sulphites, which are natural substances, are allowed in low quantities set out by law. However, organic grapes are not enough for a wine to be certified organic. In order for this to happen, the winemaker has to adhere to legislative guidelines which also limit the amount of chemical and mechanical processing a wine can go through during vinification. Certain procedures are therefore allowed, whilst others are not.
WHAT IS BIODYNAMIC WINE
If organic practices greatly restrict the chemical and mechanical intervention, biodynamic practices aim at total elimination.
The precepts of biodynamic farming were laid out by Austrian philosopher and scholar of esoterism Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s. He attempted to reconcile science and spirituality uniting them in a farming philosophy based on ethical, ecological, and astrological principles. Adopters of these ideas see a connection between the natural world as a whole and the farm, and seek to be in harmony with it by relying solely on natural methods to produce the most authentic and genuine crops possible.
Biodynamic farming is too complex to be described accurately in a short space, but here are some of the fundamentals:
While biodynamic farming is not legislated, it is however regulated by a few officials (private) bodies. Organisations like Demeter set out standards and guidelines, and issue certifications. They also carry out testing and research on the measurable benefits of biodynamic practices, including improving biodiversity and positive environmental impact.
You now may ask: should I look for certification when I buy my biodynamic bottle? Well, yes and no. Accreditation remains costly and sometimes impractical for some farmers, who may also see their certification refused for minor infractions dictated by necessity. A wine from biodynamic viticulture may not be labeled as such, but it may show other indications that biodynamic principles have been applied, such as ‘no pesticides’. In some cases, biodynamic wine may contain additives such as commercial yeast, but always within very strict parameters limiting the quantity and amount of substances used.
Many of us wine consumers are drawn to the idea of biodynamic farming as it seems to encapsulate values and concerns which are very relevant to our lives. However, the sceptics among us may be puzzled by the most esoteric aspects of biodynamic farming. ‘What do you mean I can only work on root plants on the days governed by Capricorn??’ The sceptics will be happy to know that official regulating bodies do not require farmers to follow the astrological calendar, they are however required to use the other Steiner’s methods -including preparation 500!
In essence, although some of its practices may appear vague under a strictly scientific light, biodynamic farming remains the expression of the awareness of our place in the natural world, of which we are part.