Organic Wine and Biodynamic Wine: What is the difference?
Before we looked at expanding our range of Organic and Biodynamic wines on offer, we had to gain insight into what makes the perfect wine - not just for our customer's consumption but for the wider environment. It must be remembered that wine is not an essential product for survival, but it is an enjoyable accompaniment to events and meals - even more reason, in our view, to take care of the environment.
In order to produce a high volume of wine at an affordable retail price the conventional way to grow vines is to use a combination of artificial and natural ferttilisers. The result of using artificial fertilisers makes the soil less biologically active. Similarly the use of pesticides ,and herbicides to kill plants under the vines, compromises biodiversity. The use of tractors which compress the soil and which consume diesel for power, damage the soil structure and pollutes the air.
Conventional wine is often labelled as "Contains Sulphites" since higher levels of sulphites are permitted than Organic or Biodynamic wines. So what are Sulphites?
Sulphites are a food preservative widely used in all winemaking including organic and Biodynamic wines, thanks to their ability to maintain the flavour and freshness of wine. Sulphur dioxide is the primary preservative used in wine. It acts as an antioxidant and antimicrobial agent to help stabilise wine through its duration. (Sulphites release sulphur dioxide gas) Sulphites are the primary contributor to side effects related to wine consumption, including the dreaded wine-induced headache! Generally though they aren't bad for you.
The Soil: Soil fertility is achieved through the use of raw manures, composts, organic fertilisers and mineral supplements. These natural nutrients create a balanced environment not only for the plants to thrive in but also for the microorganisms that support their activity.
Pests & Disease: Systemic chemicals are not used. Small amounts of sulphur, copper (restricted to 6kg/ha) and potassium bicarbonate are used to prevent disease. Organic pesticides may also be used.
Biodiversity & Sustainability: Biodiversity is encouraged by significantly reducing the use of chemicals.The use of cover crops and/or green manures between the rows improves the sustainability of wild life. Rain water is used for spraying.
Wine Making: Permitted levels of sulphites are around half of those for convential wines. Organic certified commercial yeasts can be used for fermentation. Only an organic certified ferment aid can be used. De-acidification level are around 60%of conventional wines and Organic Sugar addition during fermentation limited at +2.5%
Biodynamic vineyards are managed according to principles laid out in the 1920s by Rudolf Steiner, a visionary Austrian social reformer who saw farming as an almost spiritual practice, totally aligned with the rhythms of nature. His guidelines form the heart of the Demeter Biodynamic® Farm Standard, which lays out the path to biodynamic certification. Some key practices:
Following nature -The Sun & Moon
Winegrowers pay attention to how phases of the sun and moon affect vine growth, pruning and harvesting according to nature’s timing rather than market incentives. Hand labor in the vineyard is the norm, rather than by machine and there is a greater use of recycled materials making the biodynamic vineyard very sustainable.
Instead of just growing grapes, winegrowers also plant herbs, clover and wild grasses among the vines. These extra plants help loosen the soil, attract beneficial insects and birds, and help nourish billions of soil microorganisms—the key to rich topsoil and overall vineyard health. Bees are often kept on the vineyard, not to help with the pollination of the vines as they are self fertile, but to benefit a greater collection of wild flowers and generally improve the fertility and productivity of the land.
Driving Nature from Within
Biodynamic vineyards are managed as self- sufficient, living organisms that create their own vitality. No composts or fertilizers are trucked in from the outside. To feed their vines and control pests, biodynamic winegrowers rely on a dozen or more “preparations” — special composts and sprays made with plants and manure from animals raised onsite. Sometimes grub-gobbling chickens help out with pest control, too.
The Soil: Composts are enhanced with natural biodynamic preparations made from Yarrow, Chamomile, Stinging Nettle, Oak Bark, Dandelion, Valerian and Horse Tail. This enhances the microbiological diversity within the soil improving soil structure and fertility. Preparations made from horn manure and quartz crystals (that have been buried in cow horns), as well as compost teas, are sprayed on the vineyard to stimulate humus formation and encourage plant development.
Pests & Disease: Systemic chemicals are not used. Small amounts of sulphur, copper (restricted to 3kg/ha) and potassium bicarbonate are used to prevent disease. Natural biodynamic plant preparations are used to create a balanced system whereby pests and diseases are not attracted to healthy plants.
Wine Making: Permitted levels of sulphites are around 70%of those for Organic wines and they strive to keep them to a minimum.Only wild yeasts from the vineyard are used for fermentation and no ferment aids can be used. De-acidification level are around 60%of Organic wines and Organic Sugar addition during fermentation limited at +1.5%
All this results in a more naturally healthy bio-diverse and sustainable vineyard, producing better quality fruit and ultimately better quality wine, with a unique sense of place or terroir.
For More information we recommend looking at:
The Soil Association www.soilassociation.org
The Biodynamic Association www.biodynamic.org.uk
(Header Image: courtesy of Albury Organic Vineyard, Surrey Hills, UK)
©Ateliers Verts Ltd. 2023
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