Conversations about organic wine production have become commonplace as more attention is being paid to environmentally-friendly methods of farming grapes and sustainability in agriculture. As a result, phrases such as ‘organic wine’ or ‘biodynamic wine‘ are often heard nowadays but not as often understood. So what do these terms actually mean? The key point when discussing these ideas is the difference in work done in the vineyard verses that are done in the cellar. In this article, we will demystify these terms, so that you can be clear on the differences and make an informed decision when shopping for wine.
Let’s start with the broadest term, Organic wine. Much like other types of organic farming, organic wine simply means that the grapes have not been sprayed with pesticides, fungicides or any other kind of synthetics.
This is an important step on the way to more sustainable farming as chemicals used in conventional winemaking poison the soil, meaning that a range of biodiversity in the vineyard is unable to flourish. The result is that the vine is effectively disconnected from the soil it is growing on – it may as well be grown in a lab. Organic wine is typically certified, however, this does not have any barring on how the wine is actually made in the cellar.
Whilst organic cultivation is important and encouraged, in organic winemaking, the phrase organic-only extends as far the vineyard and stops as the cellar door. This means that a range of interventionist processes can still be used, such as blocked malolactic fermentation, cyro-extraction and sterile filtration. Furthermore, up to 150 additives can be included in the wine such as colourants, flavour enhancers, acids, tannins and enzymes. All the wine at Pure Wines are not only organic but also made without any of these processes or additives.
Biodynamic Wine takes the idea of organic farming to the next level. Invented by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s biodynamic farming not only aims to produce grapes organically it also includes the usage of biodynamic preparations, such as composts made from organic matter that enriches the vineyard and surrounding soil. Moreover, it also takes into account the astrological calendar and planetary movements which dictate when the grapes should and should not be picked. Whilst this may not be scientifically supported, biodynamic farming views the vineyards as a whole ecosystem, in which each life form, be it great or small, has an important part to play in the wine that is bottled, for example, animals are allowed to roam freely through the vines. Biodynamic certification does work within certain guidelines as to what is allowed to be done to the wine in the cellar, however, interventionist practices and additives can still be added.
Organic winemaking taken to it’s a logical conclusion. Natural Wine by definition is not only organic but is also made with the bare minimum of intervention both in the field and in the cellar. The grapes are organic and hand-harvested, the wine is allowed to spontaneously ferment using indigenous yeasts, no sterile filtering or fining processes are used and only the tiniest amount of sulphur dioxide is occasionally added at bottling to allow the wines to travel safely around the world.
Where can organic, biodynamic and natural wines be found?
Many environmentally conscious wine shops (whether brick and mortar or online) now stock some organic wines. However one of the very few places that is committed to only one-hundred per cent naturally produced wines is Pure Wines, an online shop based in London. Our stock ranges from wines from the well-know regions in France, Italy and Spain, to the more mysterious wine regions of Europe, such as the Czech Republic, Greece and Hungary.