Tomorrow, April 22nd is Earth Day! In honour of our abundant and wonderful planet we’re dishing the dirt on organic, biodynamic and culture raisonnée wine production.
If you’re well versed in organic farming, just relate the same regulations and practices to grape growing. In short – organic wineries cannot use any synthetic fertilizers, toxic pesticides, herbicides or GMO products (ie: yeasts). Wineries and grape growers must adhere to their country’s strict regulations in order to gain the prestigious ‘Certified Organic’ status. Bear in mind, some grape growers and winemakers subscribe to organic practices but don’t go so far as to get their certification. They generally will state this on their website but not carry the ‘certified’ sticker, so if you’re curious about your favourite producer, get googling!
The Good: organic viticulture of course minimizes the impact on the planet, plus the wines can be target the growing market of organic wine drinkers.
The Bad: getting the illustrious “Certified Organic” sticker is costly and time consuming to acquire and maintain. Plus, if a pest or disease is threatening the health of the vineyard, growers can’t spray to save their crops (and their livelihood) without losing their status! Decisions, descisions!
Biodynamics is a complex, holistic approach to stewardship of land based off Austrian philosopher, Rudolph Steiner’s greater ideas of anthroposophy. I won’t pretend I have a well-rounded grasp of this intricate subject, but from a very basic perspective it can be understood as a grape grower striking a balance between vine, man, earth and the stars. Biodynamics takes organic production to a new level: no pesticides, herbicides or GMO products are used, and above and beyond that, certain preparations are used and the biodynamic calendar is carefully followed. Planting, pruning, watering and harvesting is all, naturally, done in sync with the biodynamic calendar which has four types of days: fruit, root, flower and leaf. Each day has specific activities that correlate to it; they even suggest drinking wine on Fruit Days!
The Good: minimizes impact on the earth and connects growers, producers and consumers on a spiritual level.
The Bad: like organic production you must be endorsed by an organization called Demeter to market your wine as biodynamic, and you guessed it – it’s costly and time consuming. While many people see the merit in this type of holistic production, there is a large contingent who consider it ‘hokey’.
This is France’s best of both world’s solution to seeing the value in organic grape growing while maintaining the reality that if a pest or disease threatens their crops they will spray. Those who follow this school of thought will minimize use of pesticides and herbicides, unless absolutely necessary.
The Good: arguably the most sustainable option for all parties involved as they can tread closely to organic practices without spending time and money on the certification. At the end of the day, grape growers and winemakers will maintain their livelihood while consumers will still get their wine.
The Bad: without adhering to organic practices and pursuing their certified status, they can’t market their wines as organic, and of course, in some instances they are using harmful sprays on their crops.
So there you have it, a scratch on the complex surface of organic, biodynamic and culture raisonnée wine production. If this merely intrigued you, we suggest grabbing a bottle of Gabrielle de Richaud Clairette de Die (biodynamic bubbly) and a book to learn more, try: Voodoo Vintners by Katherine Cole or Biodynamic, Organic and Natural Winemaking by Britt and Per Karlsson.