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Biodynamics, Organic and Sustainable viticulture at its core

Organic, biodynamic, natural, green, eco-friendly, naked, sustainably-farmed… What’s the difference between all these terms and how does one understand what wine is good?

Let’s start with organic first. Organic wine is a wine that is made from grapes that were farmed organically, without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. The wine in this category cannot have any added sulfites (SO2 compounds) – that work as a preservative against certain bacteria, protect wine from oxidation and allow it to “last longer”. If wine is organic, it will carry the United States Department of Agriculture seal. One should distinguish “organic wine” and the wine “made with organically grown grapes”, when even though the grapes are farmed without synthetic additives, winemakers are allowed to add sulfites. [1]

Biodynamics is similar to organic farming in that both occur without chemicals, but biodynamics goes far beyond, perceiving the farm as a “living organism: self-contained, self- sustaining following the cycles of nature”[2]. Instead of using chemicals or manufactured additions, the growers make special compost preparations with natural ingredients (fermented manure, minerals and herbs) to help vineyards and plants become healthier and, naturally, more resistant to pests and deceases. The timing of any farming activity is regulated by lunar and astrological cycles. So, it is all about the balance and interconnection between vine, man, earth and stars. In order for a vineyard or a winery to be referred to biodynamic it has to be certified by Demeter USA. [3]

Sustainable viticulture or, so called “best practices,” refers to a series of practices that are not only environmentally sound, but also make economic sense and are socially responsible. Sustainable farmers may use organic and biodynamic practices, but are free to choose what better works for their vineyard. They may focus on soil management, water and energy conservation, recycling programs or their employees.[4] Although, there is no official certification for sustainable wines, there are several third party-certified sustainable viticulture programs that are working on sustainability standards and offer sustainability certifications. (Lodi Rules, LIVE program, California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing)

Natural wines are made with organically or biodynamically grown grapes, with native or indigenous yeasts. Wines are made without manipulative processes in the cellar and without preservatives. Some winemakers adhere to a more rigid non-interventionist style, while others may use traditional techniques to treat their wines.

In the following blog post I will interview wine producers from California to get a snapshot of what sustainable viticulture means on practice.

Cheers and stay tuned!

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