5 Things to know when buying organic or biodynamic wines

Posted on May 12, 2014 by Joanna

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You may have been hearing more and more about organic and biodynamic wines. And you might be wondering, like many, what is the difference? Is it worth the premium? How many chemicals are really in regular wine anyway? Is this just a marketing gimmick?

Some studies have shown that there can be up to 250 different kinds of chemicals in an ordinary bottle of wine. Some of these are the chemicals used in larger batch winemaking, e.g. sulfur dioxide, which is used to reduce the oxidation as when grapes are machine picked they are often damaged and exposed to air. And some chemicals are the more virulent kind like pesticides which keep birds and insects from eating the grapes. These are just two examples of commonly used chemical processes in wine making.

Pesticide Action Network Europe, released evidence that wines on sale in Europe contain residues of a large number of pesticides. In this study, 40 bottles of wine were purchased in the EU – including notable wines made by world famous vineyards. 100% of conventional wines included in the analysis were found to contain pesticides, with one bottle containing 10 different pesticides. On average each wine contained over four pesticides. (Source: European Pesticide Action Network)

Should you be alarmed? Maybe…  If you are considering to make the switch or just want to learn more about organic and biodynamic wines, here are 5 key things to know:

1) Grapes are members of the “dirty dozen” produce that absorb more chemicals

Of all the fruits and vegetables you can buy organic, it is commonly known that some tend to absorb more chemicals because of the thinness of the skin, e.g. grapes, strawberries, potatoes, etc. There are 12 of these, known as the dirty dozen.  And for human consumption, it is highly recommended that these items are bought organic. So when it comes to wine, it is not a bad idea to seek out wine which have not undergone exposure to chemicals in processing as the grape has a high propensity to absorb chemicals.

2) Is there a difference between organic and biodynamic? 

Yes.

Organic means that the wine was grown according to government standards for organic (which vary by country). Typically this means that no chemicals were used and that the production process was monitored and audited to assure this.

Biodynamic goes beyond organic. It means that the grower has used a particular farming process more closely in tune with nature. There are very strict rules in biodynamic farming about the types of fertilizer used, how it is made, etc. This concept of biodynamic farming originated from Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, who in the early 1900’s codified a system which was intended to create a diversified, balanced farm ecosystem that generated health and fertility as much as possible from within the environs of the farm itself. 

3) Will these wines taste as good, and can they be top quality? 

Some growers who use biodynamic methods claim to see significant improvements in the overall health of their vineyards and farm and assert these methods effectively support biodiversity, soil fertility, crop nutrition, and pest, weed, and disease management. For example, a friend who has a vineyard in the Rousillon region of France recently converted the vineyard to biodynamic and says that the health of the vines is dramatically improved. And when I asked how she manages pest control, she says the soil is now rich in worms which could be problem, but she often catches wild boars on the property eating the worms, so she is encouraged that nature is running its course and that she’s developing a strong ecosystem. And, in the end… with healthier vines come healthier grapes, and with healthier grapes come better wine.

About ten years ago Fortune magazine set up a rigorous blind tasting with a mixed panel of sommeliers and Masters of Wine to blind taste biodynamic wines. Intent on “debunking the myth” of biodynamic, ten wines were tasted blind and 9 were judged to be better than the standard counterparts. Acording to Fortune, the biodynamic wines “were found to have better expressions of terroir, the way in which a wine can represent its specific place of origin in its aroma, flavor, and texture.”

4) How do I know if the wine I am buying is truly organic or biodynamic?

Look for labels like USDA Organic in the US or Ecocert and Agriculture Biologique in Europe for organic wines. To confirm a wine is biodynamic, look for the Demeter label of certification.

5) Be careful when buying organic vs. wine made with organic grapes – there is a difference. 

Organic wine (or biodynamic), when labeled as such means it has come into NO contact with chemicals and this purity has been confirmed over the entire process, from grape growing to wine making. However, wine made with organic grapes (or biodynamic grapes) means that while the grapes were grown according to organic or biodynamic standards, it doesn’t mean that the wine was made without chemicals. In fact, most likely sulfur dioxide was used in the wine making to control for oxidation.

If you are like me and more and more concerned about putting “real” and unprocessed foods into your body, then you will want to explore organic and biodynamic wines. But even if you are simply a wine lover with no real concern for organic, you might find that the organic / biodynamic versions are more authentic expressions of the terroir. Either way, no matter who you are, organic and biodynamic are a win-win.

About Joanna Hutchins

Joanna Hutchins is a culinary travel blogger based in Shanghai, China.. In 2009, Joanna founded Accidental Epicurean, a culinary travel blog focused on Asia. Joanna is also a contributor to CNNGo, Look East magazine, SE Asia Globe and Two magazine.

What Others Are Saying

  1. Alejandro Moreno S. (@__Alejandro__) May 13, 2014 at 11:14 am

    Helpful article, especially the “dirty dozen” knowledge. However, let’s remember that just because something is called a “chemical” does not mean it isn’t naturally occurring. For example sulfur, it’s a chemical, and it’s naturally ocurring, is found in many hot springs and other water sources. Additionally, sulfites are a naturally occurring substance in all wines, be they organic, biodynamic or neither. Sulfites (i.e. sulfur) happen NO MATTER WHAT. The difference is an organic or biodynamic wine won’t have any ADDITIONAL sulfites added to make the wine. I also have yet to find a wine made without additional sulfites that also is able to not only produce a structured complexity, but to also develop and sustain one over time. Though I’d love for someone to show me one that has.

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