How Green Is Your Wine Buying

Organic wines are one of the hottest trends in restaurants today, according to a report last week from the National Restaurant Association. But what is the difference between traditional winemaking practices, and organic practices?

Conventional wine means that the winemakers us an industrialized agricultural system characterized by mechanization, monocultures, and the use of synthetic inputs such as chemical fertilizers and pesticides, with an emphasis on maximizing productivity and profitability.

Organic winemaking is a type of agricultural process that promotes the use of renewable resources and management of biological cycles to enhance biological diversity, without the use of genetically modified organisms, or synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers. Organic production is a system that integrates "cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. At its most basic level, organic wine is made from grapes that have been grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides.

When a label says "organic," it means the wine has met certain standards that are set by a government agency. Different nations have their own certification criteria, so what's organic in one country may not be so in another. Many wineries that are technically organic still choose not to be certified. There are many reasons for this. Some do not want the added costs and bureaucracy of registering. Others may disagree with their government's standards. It can also be a marketing decision. Whatever the case, they are not allowed to use "organic" on their labels. To make the claim on its label, a wine must be made with at least 70 percent organic grapes, according to the Organic Consumers Association. There's no official seal for "wines made from organic grapes", so you'll have to read the label or ask the wine store owner where to find them.

Organic wine can also be broken down further to include biodynamic and sustainable wine making practices.

Biodynamic winemaking follows the teachings of Austrian anthroposophist Rudolph Steiner (1861-1925), and incorporates homeopathic treatments, as well as astronomical and astrological considerations, into the organic process. His is a system of farming and damaging natural resources to produce the highest possible crop quality. The central goal of biodynamic farming is to create and maintain unique, self-sustaining farm ecosystems. This is achieved by building and maintaining soil fertility through composting and crop rotation. Unique to biodynamic farming is the application of biodynamic preparations (organic nutrient teas) that stimulate soil and compost microbial activity and stimulate the life forces of soil and plants. For biodynamic wines, two related, prevalent ideas exist: life follows rhythms and the farm should be self-sustainable. Like organic farming, biodynamic agriculture uses no synthesized herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers. Unlike organic farming, though, biodynamic producers build upon the organic base with their adherence to life's rhythms and a self-containing eco-system. According to wine maker and biodynamic advocate Nicolas Joly: "Organics permits nature to do its job; biodynamie permits it to do its job more."

Biodynamic growers believe that the Earth and plant life have rhythms in respect to their position to the moon, sun and stars. The earth inhales and exhales. High and low tides are great examples of the earth's rhythms. Another example is the cycle of sap within vines. During periods of an ascending moon, the earth breathes out, and growth is focused above the soil. Sap flows upward. During a descending moon, the earth inhales, and sap is drawn downward into the soil. Like grape vines, trees react the same way. For this reason, cutting down large trees such as a maple is best avoided during an ascending moon.

Biodynamic producers time vineyard and cellar work to enhance life's rhythms. For example, producers will rack their wines-term for removing sediment, by moving the wine from one barrel to another, generally using gravity-during a descending moon or inhalation. The theory: the gravitational pull compacts the sediment, rendering an easier racking. Also, many producers believe the increase in gravitational pull holds the aromas in the wine being racked. Thus, the aromas do not escape from the wine!
Sustainable wine refers to an agricultural system that is ecologically sound, economically viable, and socially just - a system capable of maintaining productivity indefinitely. Sustainable agriculture was addressed by Congress in the 1990 Farm Bill. Under that law, "the term sustainable agriculture means an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long term:
· Satisfy human food and fiber needs
· Enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends
· Make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and o-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls
· Sustain the economic viability of farm operation
· Enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole."

Wineries that take the ecology of the vineyard into account, and try to minimize chemical treatments an energy use, are considered sustainable. Some jokingly refer to themselves as "organic unless something goes wrong."

So, do biodynamic, organic, and sustainable wines taste better than conventionally made wines? These wines communicate the maker's passion and their commitment to nature. Biodynamic wine is an expression of the place, soil and microclimate-components of the French-term "terroir." If well made, then biodynamic wines are delicious, unique and hold a sense of place. Monty Waldin in Biodynamic Wines describes the uniqueness source as "farm individuality." This individuality often results in some of the most expressive and interesting wine out there.

Want to try a few of these dynamic wines? Check out Bonterra Merlot (California) 2005 and Sepp Moser Gruner Veitliner 2006 (Austria).

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About The Author, Jennifer De Jong
Jennifer de Jong is a long time wine drinker, enjoyer of wine, and non-wine-snob. She is the founder of <a href="">VinoVixenz</a> a snob free zone for learning all aspects of wine culture. From how to pronounce difficult wine names to <a href="">free wine reviews</a> and ratings.