Updated: Jan 31, 2022
Not all wines are created equal. But some wines are created equally as good for the planet as they are for your enjoyment. In this article I want to share why I try to choose drinking more sustainable wines.
Browse the endless wine shelf at the supermarket and you might grow curious: what's behind this bottle of red besides fermented grape juice? And more so... Why does this bottle only cost €4.29
These days, most of us are more savvy than ever about where our food comes from and how it's produced. I mean in this new years Aldi catalogue they were celebrating "Veganuary" and had pages dedicated to "Bio" goods. Like most things trying to be good "greenwashing" with Bio has also got turned into another money making marketing spin. But that could be another dedicated post.
Anyway keeping it positive, while most of are more conscious about what goes on to our plates most of us can't say the same thing about that glass of vino we're enjoying along with those better food choices.
The truth is, the method of wine production is as varied as Big Agro factory chicken versus pastured-raised free birds. Some wines are more natural—or "cleaner"—than others. To understand the difference between organic, biodynamic and natural wine, it first helps to have a little background.
To simplify what is a complex subject of winemaking - Check out my post on Wine roots
but in short wine is the product of two main processes wine growing and winemaking:
1. Wine growing encompasses planting, farming and harvesting grapes in the vineyard. (So what and how the wine maker grows grapes in the vineyard)
2. Winemaking includes crushing grapes to get juice. An alcoholic fermentation of the juice kicked of by yeast and is influenced by temperature and time. Then bottling the result... WINE. (So what the winemakers does in the cellar).
Though the intricacies of a good glass are all held in the bottle, variations between wines aren't always transparent. One thing is clear when strolling through the aisles of pinot noirs and rieslings at your local shop: aside from seemingly simple decisions—do I want red or white tonight?— you should also consider a made good - drink good wine that might be "organic," "biodynamic" or a "natural" Low intervention wine.
1. Organic Wine
What is organic viticulture?
Organic viticulture is a holistic cultivation system. Organic vintners rely on biologically active soil as the ideal location for healthy and stable vines. Careful use of water and soil - organic vintners do without artificial fertilizers and only use organic and sparingly soluble fertilizers. They do not use any foreign chemical-synthetic substances - a plus for our soil and the groundwater. Prevention instead of pesticides - The organic vintners protect their vines from pests and diseases by promoting beneficial organisms, using plant-strengthening care products and planting grape varieties that are naturally resistant to fungal diseases . Promotion of biodiversity - organic vintners create with blooming green undersown crops in their vineyards as well as through walls, Bushes and trees create new diverse habitats for plant and animal species that are often threatened. Natural products instead of genetic engineering - when choosing plants as well as yeast and other products used, this quality criterion is guaranteed by strict controls.
Organic wine in Summary
No Synthetic Fertilizers, Herbicides or Pesticides
Organic grapes are cultivated in vineyards banning the use of artificial inputs, including synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and pesticides. In organic vineyards, a bountiful growing year relies instead on maintaining strict standards for soil health—for example, upping biodiversity through crop rotation.
Does organic farming have an impact on wine quality?
Of course yes: an increase in quality is hardly possible with conventional viticulture. In the production of terroir wines, organic viticulture is of crucial importance. More and more top wineries around the world have recognized this and are converting their businesses.
2 Biodynamic Wines
Biodynamic WINES Adhere to all organic criteria, plus some (or all) of the doctrines established in the late 1920s by Rudolph Steiner, an Austrian philosopher and academic known for exploring the synthesis of science and spirituality. To put it simply, biodynamics is the practice of viewing the vineyard as an ecological entity regarded from the soil up.
While anyone can practice this style of farming, winemakers cannot label their wines "biodynamic" unless they are certified by Demeter, the main association for biodynamic growers.
Biodynamic certification requires that farms be free of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers for at least three years and generate at least 80 percent of their fertilizer from the farm itself. So instead of bringing in organic fertilizers and other materials, vineyard waste, such as grape seeds and skins and landscape cuttings, is recycled back into the land through composting, which helps farmers maintain nutrient-rich soil. "This practice involves creating an ecosystem and it requires serious commitment on the part of the producer," "It isn't something that can happen overnight."
Biodynamic wines in summary
Organic — and more….creating a true sense of Terrior.
At the base level, this means increasing soil fertility by barring the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Biodynamics, then, is organic wine taken a step further: just as the care for your health shouldn't prioritize lungs over kidneys, so must a vineyard operate as a series of balanced interactions.
While many vineyards are monocultures (the cultivation of a single crop alone), a biodynamic farm must be diversified and self-sustainable, resisting monoculture through interactions between a larger ecosystem of plants and animals.
Planting, harvesting and pruning practices are determined by a specific calendar, taking into account both lunar cycles and the position of the sun and planets. There is said to be 3 x more manual labour to cultivate wine Biodynimc ( to stay competitive - this doesn’t mean the wines are 3 times more expensive)
3. Natural or Low Intervention Wines
Natural wine, as it is called, has taken part of the wine world by storm.
Hated by some, the only real deal for others: Few topics have split the world of wine lovers as much as this topic.
Natural winemaking, despite its more recent popularity, is technically the first and oldest method of growing wine. However, natural wine is tricky to pinpoint in a single definition; all natural wine does follow this ethos “Nothing in - Nothing out”
Another explination could be wine in its “Purist/ Cleanest*” form.
Natural wine—from growing and fermenting to bottling and cellaring—is made entirely without chemical intervention and with the bare minimum of technological manipulation. It's as natural as a wine can get, with little to nothing added or subtracted in the vine to vat process. To put it very, very simply, it's fermented grape juice and little else. Nothing in, Nothing out.
But, it's crucial to note that "nonchemical intervention" doesn't mean an absence of intervention entirely. Wine growing and winemaking across all categories is precise, painstaking labor, and it's extraordinarily so in natural wine. Soil fertility and diversity in the vineyard's ecosystem are vital, meaning problems among the vines, like an invasion of leaf-munching beetles, require rethinking symbioses within the entire operation rather than locating a tank of pesticide spray.
Another but: the ethos of natural wine doesn't necessarily mean these wines are "real" while others are not. Instead, think of "natural" as an indication of wine that's as unmanipulated as possible. Any naturally occurring flaws are included, and often celebrated *and may not taste as clean / pure to some of the regular stuff you have been quaffing.
Ever hear the phrase a square is a rectangle, but a rectangle is not always a square? Keep that in mind: a natural wine is organic and sometimes biodynamic, though organic and biodynamic wines are not always natural.
Natural wines In Summary
Natural Wines are exciting, distinguished and mostly different from there usual wine/ grape style.
The natural wine making approach especially in Europe is advocating a return to the more human approach to winemaking, “the way older generations worked the hills before the industrialization,” in sync with nature and by intuition.
Natural Wine is farmed organically (biodynamically, using permaculture or the like) and made (or rather transformed) without adding or removing anything in the cellar. No additives or processing aids are used, and ‘intervention’ in the naturally occurring fermentation process is kept to a minimum. As such neither fining nor (tight) filtration are used. The result is a living wine – wholesome and full of naturally occurring microbiology.
In our disconnected world that salutes the money King. Wine like any business …
(And Ive worked in clothing / luxury apparel for years) can be quick and dirty, faster and cheaper. Bottled just to be throttled down.
Or ... as Ive tried to detail. There are wine makers practising in these 3 realms have a conscious and connection to a long term view of winemaking and the world.
Their craft is painstaking, cleaner and clearer, detailed and delicate. Its about "quality over quantity". Winemakers working with and not against Mother Nature. Winemakers thinking about longterm planet sustainability and not short term profitability. Wine makers that are conscious about putting anything unconventional in and not taking anything good out. A very hands on approach in the vineyards but then once the wine is left to ferment its hands-off in the cellar letting the wine decide when its ready for cracking. In short a “Slow wine making” approach. A WIN/ WIN for the winemaker and the world or Win/ Wine for all human kind.
So drink wines - made good to feel extra good - Zum Wohl!
For a cracking line up of slow wines check out this wine shop