‘Organic' and ‘Biodynamic’ wines are growing in number and popularity year on year. Consumers are drawn to the supposed health benefits they provide and better environmental practices that they adhere to. But what do the terms ‘Organic’ and ‘Biodynamic’ actually mean in the wine industry? Here, without getting too technical, we will try to shed a light them.
Best sustainable practices are followed such as the protection of the environment during the production process with biodiversity encouraged in the vineyard. The use of artificial fertilisers and herbicides are almost always avoided, though copper sulphate is an exception to protect against mildew. In the winery, manipulation of the wine is limited and there are tighter restrictions on the level of sulphites allowed in the finished product. Sulphites must must be at least 30-50 mg per litre lower than a non-organic wine. This usually equates to at most two thirds of the maximum sulphates allowed conventionally, depending on the residual sugar content. See our entire range of Organic wines here.
Based on the work of Austrian Philosopher Rudolf Steiner, biodynamic viticulture combines many of the same practices of Organic viticulture but goes further. Biodynamic viticulture views the vineyard as one solid organism, each portion of the vineyard contributing to the next, creating a self-sustaining ecosystem. Naturally occurring materials, soils, and composts are used to sustain the vineyard, and often, a range of farm animals from chickens to horses to sheep live on the soil to fertilise it. Chemical fertilisers and pesticides are forbidden. Biodynamics can also have a more spiritual approach involving the lunar calendar to guide the timing of vineyard activity. See our entire range of Biodynamic wines here.
Organic and Biodynamic Certification
The EU first officially recognised the labelling of ‘Organic Wine’ from the 2012 vintage onwards. Certification is complex and varies from country to country using different regulatory bodies with differing criteria. Although many producers do get their wines certified it can be an arduous and expensive process and as a result many choose to practice organic and biodynamic principles without getting officially certified. See our entire range of Non-Certified Organic wines here.
So what about the Sulphites?
Sulphur dioxide, is a naturally occurring element that has been used by winemakers to keep their wines fresh for over two thousand years. All wines contain some sulphites because they are naturally produced by yeasts during fermentation. This is why you see ‘contains sulphites’ on all wine labels.
The use of additional sulphur dioxide added during winemaking varies by producer and is dependent on may factors, such as the health of the harvested grapes, alcohol, pH and sugar levels. Too much sulphur dioxide or too little can mar a wines experience, sometimes causing off-aromas and flavours that mask the true character of the grape. The general trend is towards using just enough over recent decades and to intervene less.
Some consumers report allergic reactions to sulphites in wines and or less of a hangover. While the science of this is currently up for debate, wines with lower amounts of sulphites are more prevalent than ever, so there is now plenty of choice for the concerned consumer.
In short by choosing wines based on organic and biodynamic practices (certified or not) you are more likely to consume wines with lower sulphite levels, little to no use of pesticides or herbicides during production and viticulture practices that are better for the environment.