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All You Need To Know About Organic, Bio-Dynamic, And Natural Wines 

It’s safe to say that the giants in the wine-making industry don’t like to advertise: Their wines are made from grapes sprayed with pesticides and are tweaked with colourants, thickeners, and flavour enhancers. Staying away completely from these practices consciously is the starting point to making Organic, Bio-dynamic and Natural wine. What remains common with all three is that the end result is the same: simply to make good wine, that is derived from good grapes that are grown in good soil and achieved by returning to more traditional methods and working closer to nature.

I recently passed the second or Certified Level of the Court of Masters Guild. As a Sommelier (wine expert) you are expected to know the past, the present and foreseeable future about wine, viniculture, and hospitality. For the theory segment we were asked a very popular question which isn’t the easiest to answer. I took it upon myself to be a team sport and explain it all of you alcohol enthusiasts. What is the difference between the three different types of wine? Read on to find out….

1. Organic Wines

Organic wine is made from grapes grown in vineyards that exclude the use of synthetic chemicals—fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and pesticides. Vines grow in soil that use natural insect predators such as ladybirds being added to counter blackfly or greenfly, which is an aphid or small bug that slowly kills the vine by sucking its sap. Birds are released to eat big insects and chicken coop are placed all across the vineyard to help counter pests and add to the manure. The methods can be successfully practised where there is a hot, dry continental climate and vineyards are located on windblown slopes, mildew and rot is less of a problem for example Alsace. It can be very tricky in a warm, damp maritime climate with flat vineyards—rot and mildew can be a real problem in Bordeaux or Sicily. These places will usually practice lutte raisonée (“reasonable prevention”), in which a minimum amount of chemical spraying is adopted and only used when necessary. So they never become truly organic but they do adopt many of the same principles. To convert a conventional vineyard to an organic one is a three-year process that involves regular inspection. Organisations such as the Soil Association in the UK and Ecocert in France award the certification.

2. Bio-dynamic wine

It is the circle of life animals eat the plants and plants eat the animals, everything is reduced to its basic carbon state and then rebuilt, it’s a continuous cycle. 

-Alvaro Espinosa, Chilean biodynamic superstar, winemaker of Emiliana and Antiyal

Biodynamic growers employ other plants and animals to rejuvenate any deficiencies. For instance, in regions where you see nitrogen deficiencies, fava beans and other legumes (dal) are grown around the vines. These plants ‘fix’ nitrogen into the soil and, if pruned before flowering, will continue to do so. Pruning is very important (always).  Yields are typically lower in organic/biodynamic vineyards, and this is why transitions to the viticulture methods can be financially painful; there is going to be less fruit, and the fruiting will be more irregular. This came as a counter cultural reaction to cause and effect of mass produced wine using synthetic aids and pesticides. Many bizarre practices are followed by farmers and many have no explanations as to why is they work. The strangest being the use of cow horn and its silica, horsetail and animal intestines and all of these are planned around the timing of the sun, moon, planets and seasons.

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For a vineyard to be considered bio-dynamic, the vine-grower must follow the organic criteria, plus some or all of the philosophies first voiced in 1924 by Rudolf Steiner. Steiner was an Austrian cultural philosopher, social reformer and spiritual scientist and later worked on agriculture. His idea was to apply a holistic approach to the farm wherein every organism contributes and has part to play in the “circle of life.” The farm should encourage biodiversity, be self-sustainable and resist mono-culture through cultivation of a variety of plants.

3. Natural Wines

As the mere act of suspending grape juice in its intermediary state between must and vinegar is, by its very nature not natural, natural wine is naturally… marketing.

– Geoff Kruth, Master Sommelier

Conforming to standards and criteria goes against the principles of natural wine, as many natural wine makers would say, but there are unofficial definitions and codes of practice published by various associations such as the l’Association de Vins Naturels, Vinnatur or Simbiosa. There is no official or legal classification or standard set of operating procedures, which makes natural wine hard to define. You could call it “Hippie Juice”. Organic wine is organic in the sense of having been produced from organically grown grapes, but may be subject to chemical and physical manipulation in the wine-making process. With minimal chemical and technological intervention, both in growing grapes and making them into wine. The term is used to distinguish such wine from organic wine and bio-dynamic wine because of differences in cellar practices. All natural wines are, however, farmed organically at a minimum and many growers are bio-dynamic in the vineyard as well. By the very nature of this philosophy, natural winemakers are small-scale, artisan operations that may risk their entire year’s production by sticking to their principles, following an ancient and historical method that combines great care in the vineyard and winery to produce the best product nature can provide.

France and Italy are amongst the greatest advocates of natural wine, but these practices have faced a lot of criticism over the years from industry heavyweights. The lack of consistency or the widespread problem of faulty natural wine makes it a difficult footing to argue with. The new world winemakers have made massive technological advances in wine making, maybe all this “Kumbaya” scares them.

I found an interesting analogy with chickens to help explain.

1. Go to Whole Foods and buy the very best chicken they have. It will be corn-fed, free-range and it will taste great. This is organic wine.

2. Search out a local butcher, the best you can find, and buy his most expensive chicken. It will be corn-fed, free-range, and coming from a small farm—the feet and head are still attached. It tastes fantastic. This is bio-dynamic wine.

3. Raise your own chicken, kill it, pluck it and eviscerate it. Then spit-roast it on an open fire. If you have some chicken cooking skills, it will taste amazing. If not you risk salmonella, chewing on feathers and your friends thinking you are bonkers. But you won’t care and will still insist it’s the best chicken ever.

This is natural wine.

 

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