I had so much fun doing the screwcap series. It was great learning all about how this “new” alternative to cork is making the scene. So I decided to delve into another, “hot-button” issue and that is the organic and biodynamic idea. What does this mean? Is organic wine and biodynamic wine better fore you than other wine. Is it a marketing ploy? Is it voodoo? I want to start with organic and then dive into the deep end with some biodynamic research.

What does organic mean? Well, Merriam Webster tells us the following:

“3 a (1): of, relating to, or derived from living organisms (2): of, relating to, yielding, or involving the use of food produced with the use of feed or fertilizer of plant or animal origin without employment of chemically formulated fertilizers, growth stimulants, antibiotics, or pesticides “

This makes sense to me. Basically we are using renewable resources in our farming to maximize on the organic material from the earth to aid in harvest. Nothing being used is synthetic or chemical. Pretty cool.

Wikipedia says the following:

“Organic farming is a form of agriculture that relies on crop rotation, green manure, compost, biological pest control, and mechanical cultivation to maintain soil productivity and control pests, excluding or strictly limiting the use of synthetic fertilizers and synthetic pesticides, plant growth regulators, livestock feed additives, and genetically modified organisms.”

So here there is mention of synthetic pesticides but along with the words, “excluding,” and, “strictly limiting.” Does this mean that some non-organic materials being used in the manufacturing of pesticides and fertilizers in small amounts is not restricted? It is a bit overwhelming and I am still looking into it but it seems that the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) restricts all synthetic compounds for organic certification. I, of course, have to pay for the full list but the sample shows all synthetics being restricted and even a couple non-synthetics. So I think wiki might be a bit off but then again whoever entered the info may have gone through the process. Without going to deep into it I think we can get a sense of what is going on here. Generally we are using organic farming to help the environment and preserve our vineyards and other agriculture. We want the vineyards to be around for a long time so we use non-synthetic materials that give back to the natural ecosystem. Very symbiotic.

The certification process is monumentally overwhelming and it feels like one would need to hire a staff just to get the certification going. It’s not enough that a winemaker has to maintain his or her crops (if the grapes are estate grown), oversee labor, maintain a wine making facility, over see the wine making process, deal with bottling, labeling, marketing, shipping and calculate spoilage for the wine buses full of tourists that plow through wine country then they have to spend three to five years preparing and paying for paper work and documenting the practices of their farming so that the USDA can put them on a list to be reviewed? It almost seems impossible. But people do it. The “Green” movement is in full swing and is gaining speed. Get certified and you have a better chance of commanding the market. The media is going “Green” crazy and if you are lucky your organic wine could make the pages of FOOD & WINE magazine.

Is organic wine healthier for you than non-organic wine? Well this is how I see it. I have really looked into this one because it is a question I often get at the shop. The answer in my head is yes; organic wine is healthier for you. But not in the way you might think. Its not like organic wine is vitamin water and if you drink it you will live longer that those poor souls enjoying a non-organic wine. The way it goes is like this. When you drink an organic wine you are supporting the use of renewable farming. You are giving back to a movement that encourages non-synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Everything being used in the vineyard is going back to the earth and breaking down into the existing ecosystem revitalizing crops and the soils. In this way it is mentally healthier because you know you are doing something good for the environment. There are no additives in organic wine that make you healthier.

The physical health aspect of organic wines is more reflective in the communities and environs surrounding the vineyards. If a winemaker or grape grower is using conventional pesticides and fertilizers they are clinging to the grapes and stem and leaves which carry trace elements into the wine making facility. Notice I said trace elements. This clinging is not toxic to the body and most of their presence is destroyed in the fermentation process from what I have read. What affects our health is when these synthetic fertilizers and pesticides make their way into the vineyard run-off and get into the rivers and effect water supplies and wild life. I have also read that the use of artificial fertilizers may weaken the vines overtime and produce less ripe fruits or the opposite and produce over-ripe swelled fruit.

It should also be mentioned that even though a wine is not certified organic does not mean the winemaker does not employ organic practices. A good amount of producers out there do not want to take the time to go through the rigorous process of getting certified but advertise that they use sustainable agricultural practices. We see this mostly in Europe where wine cultures are farming the same way today as their ancestors did generations before them. They are proud of the way they cultivate and don’t feel they need a government certification to justify their practices.

The organic movement was solidified in the US in 2002 with the USDA creating a division called the National Organic Program(NOP). It is an intense and complex process that many people are going through whether they are winemakers or apple growers. But just as in Europe there are those who just say hey, I am utilizing organic farming and I don’t need Uncle Sam to prove it.

Everybody is going “Green” from networks to fortune 500 companies to restaurants and Laundromats. It is wonderful but it is also marketing. In the wine industry we are pretty safe because every marketing ploy to merchandise “Green” products is pretty much legit (I am not talking about cheesy merchandise like glass markers or that worthless piece of material that supposedly ages a wine in glass two years…don’t get me started). Glass, screwcaps, cork, synthetic cork, its all recyclable. And if a wine is certified organic with a little USDA approved seal to boot on the label you are golden. As for the others out there that practice organic farming but don’t seek certification it is up to your wine merchant to give you the truth instead of just placating you just so you buy the bottle.

Next week I will swim in biodynamic indulgence. I will define it and discuss the voodoo and the hoodoo. Cheers.

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