Organic and Biodynamic Wines
From hippie fad to mainstream must-have. Biodynamic vineyards have cover crops, beehives, birds and trees. Also: online resources and an extensive list of makers of sustainable wines.
by Scott Evans
Life certainly comes full circle. While researching this article, I began to reflect upon my history with organic and biodynamic wine. I first helped create a wine list in 2000 at Sage's Café on 300 S. and 500 E. It was truly a challenge to find a variety of organic wines and nearly impossible to track down biodynamic wine.
Since then the wine world and my experience with wine have changed considerably. Just as in other organic products, understanding what the terms on the labels mean is important. "Wine from organically grown grapes" means the wine is made with grapes grown without the use of pesticides and chemicals, fulfilling state regulations regarding the organic certification. "Organic wine" is a legally protected term that verifies the wine, in addition to being made from organically grown grapes, has no added sulfites. Wines containing over 10 ppm of sulfites cannot carry the "organic wine" label; the label must state "contains sulfites."
For ease of reference, I will use the term organic wine to mean "wine from organically grown grapes."
Sulfites are naturally occurring elements present in both food and wine. They develop during the fermentation stage of winemaking. Most winemakers add additional sulfites after fermentation to preserve the fruit profile and age worthiness of wine.
Sulfites are often accused of delivering pounding headaches to some red wine drinkers, but after years of research, no study has been able to prove that notion. White wine actually contains more sulfites than red wine, and only approximately 1% of the population is allergic to sulfites. All wine, even certified organic wine, contains at least 2 to 10 parts per million of sulfites.
What is biodynamic wine?
Similar to biodynamic farming in general, biodynamic viticulture (grape growing) is a "management approach that understands a vineyard as a self-contained individuality." (www.demeter-usa.com) The Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, creator of Waldorf education, developed biodynamic theory in 1924 in his now famous "Agriculture Course." A biodynamic vineyard looks and feels different. Rather than neat barren rows of vines, cover crops, trees, birds and bees can be found cohabiting with vines. In many instances, a portion of the vineyard is designed to attract insects and birds that naturally control rodents or insect threats. Some vineyard managers choose to plant less acreage to grapes and essentially create a nature preserve around the vines.
Perhaps the most noted aspect of biodynamic farming involves working with lunar cycles in harvesting grapes and cellaring wine. Biodynamic vintners use the waning moon as a guide for when to rack (transferring wine from one container to another for filtration) the wine. The idea is that a waning moon will help settle the wine, which adds clarity to the wine by taking sediment away from the fermented grape juice. A more esoteric practice involves filling cow horns with organic manure and burying them on the autumnal equinox. The horns are dug up the next spring and the contents scattered across the vineyards as compost.
This may sound a little hokey to some, but New World winemakers (those in North and South America, New Zealand and Australia) are realizing en masse that the much-discussed terroir of the Old World (Europe) is evident in many vineyards that utilize organic and biodynamic vineyard management. Because synthetic pesticides and chemicals are not used, the grapes are able to absorb trace minerals from the soil that add complexity to each glass of wine. A wine expressing terroir, or geography, features a bouquet and flavor profile true to the location and climate of the vineyard from which the grapes were harvested. Utilizing this logic, a great wine from a New World region such as California or Washington should express flavor profiles true to the region. The same grape, say, Cabernet Sauvignon, that is grown in the Napa Valley should taste and smell different than a Cabernet from the Columbia Valley in Washington.
Organic wine has not had the best of reputations. Many of the first organic wines relied on marketing "organic" rather than focusing on quality, and this early trend led wine journalists to view organic wine as a fad. Because of this, most organic and biodynamic wines on the market are not labeled as organic. Most winemakers strive to be known for the quality and complexity of what is poured from their bottles, rather than for marketing strategies, organic or otherwise. The challenge to finding a great bottle of wine from sustainable grapes is that most bottles do not refer to organic or biodynamic on their labels.
Currently nearly 140 California vineyards in are certified organic according to California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). The Oregon Wine Board lists 19 certified organic vineyards and six certified biodynamic vineyards. In the last five years the number of certified organic vineyards has grown exponentially. For each officially certified vineyard, many more are transitioning towards sustainable agriculture or are simply unofficially organic.
As this year's fermented juice goes into French and American oak barrels, last year's harvest is hitting the shelves. Thousands of farm workers are picking and crushing grapes across the world as you read these lines. While wandering the aisles of the wine store, consider sampling a sustainable wine.
Good news! A variety of sustainable wines in a range of prices is available at almost all Utah liquor stores. Even more, because of the high quality certified organic and biodynamic wines, nearly every restaurant wine list in town offers at least a couple of organic wines; they often just don't know it! I have found sustainable wine at the Tin Angel, Oasis Café, Sage's Café, Faustina, Vertical Diner, Squatters Brew Pub and Squatters Roadhouse Grill. Keep the proprietor's names mentioned in the sidebar handy while you dine or shop.
Scott Evans is a manager and liquor at Squatters.
Sustainable wine resources online:
MAKERS OF SUSTAINABLE WINES
Although the price of wine from the following producers varies from $10 to $300 a bottle, you can certainly find a wine you will love and feel good about consuming.
(BD) = Biodynamic Wine
North American Wines
Araujo Estate (BD)
Brick House (BD)
Ceago Del Lago (BD)
Grgich Hills (BD)Kings Estate
Staglin Family Vineyards (BD)
Stags Leap Winery
Domaine Leflaive (BD)
Domaine Leroy (BD)
Comtes Lafon (BD)
Coulee de Serrant (BD)
M Chapoutier (BD)
Alvaro Palacios (BD)