What is Organic Wine?

How organic, biodynamic and sustainable wines differ


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Biodynamic agriculture takes organic farming one step further. The Biodynamic view is that a farm is a closed circuit. For example, water used for agricultural purposes should be reclaimed and reused. Farm animals should consume the cover crops left between vines and their waste should be then replaced between those vines to rebuild the soil.

It’s an appealing philosophy that also includes homeopathic treatments, various fermented and steeped brews replacing chemical applications. It also includes a scheduling philosophy that involves the movement of the planets as way to identify peak times for various farm and cellar activities.

While there is tremendous anecdotal evidence that Biodynamics have a profound impact on farming and winemaking, some statements by the movement’s main philosopher, Rudolf Steiner, have opened the philosophy up to ridicule. Exhibit A: Steiner taught that because disease may be caused by bad karma, interfering with the path of an illness may cause a patient to have to compensate for any effects in a future life. 

Photo courtesy stefano lubiana wines via Flickr/CC

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  • Nice article. A good place for trying out natural wines is Terroir in San Francisco. I have written about it here http://schiller-wine.blogspot.com/2... which includes also a primer of "green winemaking"

    Oct 06, 2011 at 12:16 PM

  • Organic does not always mean better for the environment. There are many cases where organic vineyards spray more sulfur and more copper (and really bad organic coppers like copper oxychloride that can toxify soils over time) than a sustainable non-organic vineyard. The fact of the matter, sadly, is that most everything mentioned in this article is driven by the notion of marketing fads. Are their positive elements to each of the methods that are mentioned in this article? Absolutely! Unfortunately, the majority of wineries will follow one path or the other with ferocious zealotry often ignoring a holistic and common sense application of the varying principles of each of these different concepts explained so that they can happily slap "organic" or "biodynamic" or "natural" on the wine label or their marketing collateral. All in the hopes that it will capture more sales.

    Oct 06, 2011 at 3:38 PM

  • Snooth User: trevor1
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    389762 18

    Just to get a few things corrected. Organic is an internationally legislated term. All governments who permit organic agriculture have legislated it. The term under legislation means simply "without the use of synthetic pesticides, fungicides and fertilisers". It does not mean that the crop or animals grown are any better so there can and maybe a big gap in quality depending on the individual farmer. Certain non synthetic chemicals may be used and sulphur is permitted (somehow USA legislated it wrong). Sulphur is naturally present in the wine and for thousands of years has been used. Too much free sulphur is a problem.

    Secondly Copper oxychloride is banned in organics and if you are caught using it in an organic vineyard you would lose your licence. Copper hydroxide is permitted but no more than 8kg/hectare per season which is way more than you could really use. Even my vineyard after years of spraying copper the soil is still too low on copper and I have had to add some to the soil. BTW the frogs are everywhere and love being there. So do I.
    Biodynamic is a modality and comes under the organic legislation.

    Thirdly people that get allergic reactions and or feel sick/hangover feelings etc do not get it from my red wines. They are made correctly and their is an art to it.

    Oct 06, 2011 at 7:11 PM

  • Talking about sulfites, in Europe it means the wine may contain 50% at most of the maximum allowed by law.

    Oct 06, 2011 at 9:01 PM

  • Trevor, great to know that Australia doesn't allow copper oxychloride in their organic regime. However, the truth of the matter is that around the world it *is* allowed as an organic fungicide and is used pretty liberally (NZ, France, USA and more).

    Oct 06, 2011 at 9:48 PM

  • "In order to be labeled as organic, wines in both Europe and the U.S. need to be produced with added sulfites." I think you intended to say "without"?
    I have never gotten a headache from any wine in Europe; but I avoid many wines in the U.S. that give me a headache (from a histamine reaction) because there are too many ADDED sulfites in them. That is really where the U.S. government gets it totally wrong in label restrictions. ALL wines have sulfites; so what good is a disclaimer that says "contains sulfites". How about a label that indicates the percentage of ADDED sulfites?

    Oct 06, 2011 at 9:50 PM

  • You know the only reason I pay attention to these comment blogs is because I see how often they propagate incorrect information.

    I can assure you those European wines that never give you a headache have had Sulfur added to them during the winemaking process just like the wines in the USA. Potassium Metabisulphate is the most common compound used around the world for making a Sulfur Dioxide additions during winemaking. It is used in wine made from organic grapes virtually everywhere (note my distinction between organic winemaking versus wine made from organically grown grapes).

    There have been trials and experiments with making wines without any SO2 additions and they often fall prey to oxidation or spoilage. In the academic world of wines the notion of using ZERO SO2 is regarded as hugely risky and generally a bad idea.

    Also think on this one.....a white wine versus a red wine will usually have a higher SO2 content.

    The idea of sulphur/sulfites leading to headache/flushing/allergy reactions has been largely debunked time and again, but it lives on as an urban myth. Dr Vino has a good blog about this subject and believe it or not, the wikipedia article on red wine headaches is actually pretty good.

    There was also a recent research project done in Italy that pointed to some unique proteins that occur in *some* red wine that might be the culprit, but I don't have a web reference to that research readily available.

    Oct 06, 2011 at 11:12 PM

  • Perhaps it is the sulfites for someone who is also allergic to drugs containing sulfa?
    Also guaranteed a headache if I have cheese or chocolate with wine.
    I never drink white wine anymore because I did more frequently get headaches drinking it than when I drank red wine. I believed there were more added sulfites in most white wines than in red wines - not true?

    Oct 07, 2011 at 9:59 AM

  • Snooth User: Centurian
    522952 17

    I almost always feel well during and after I drink Napa Valley wines and that is mostly what I'm willing to try. As long as I don't over imbibe, 500 ml or less, I rarely have a problem. I cannot say the same though for wines I've had from other areas around the world. I can usually tell on the morning after if I've had food or drink with too much preservatives, antibiotics, hormones or whatever and those items go off my shopping list in a hurry. There are of course exceptions but there is something in some wine and food that does not agree with me. Not surprising I guess that organic raw food and beverage is something I'm very interested in.

    Oct 09, 2011 at 10:42 PM

  • Thanks for the great information. Varietal wines are made predominantly from a single-grape varietal, such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay. By law (presently), a wine must contain at least 75% of wine from the grape varietal stated on the label. In practice, the content usually is on the order of 90% and often 100%.


    Nov 19, 2011 at 10:28 AM

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