Sustainable, Organic or Biodynamic?

Trivia is first. What is older, beer or wine?

Sustainable- As defined by UC Davis “the principle that we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. The US government also has a long winded definition that is very loosely followed because there is no government body that regulates it.   

My take on sustainable wine is, we’ll try really hard…we promise. Sustainable winemakers seem to want something to show for their efforts to “sustain” the environment, but don’t want to put forth the full effort and/or money, to be certified organic. Sustainable vineyards DO sometimes use man made fertilizers and pesticides.

Organic- Every country has its own definition of organic wine. There are only a few countries that have groups in place to monitor the use of the word organic with wine. In the U.S., the system is broken down like this:

(Here’s a quick tutorial to help understand what you are about to read. Fermentation is grape juice + yeast = wine. Sulfites are then added to the wine to help preserve it and let it age gracefully. Some sulfites naturally occur during fermentation)          

  1. 100 Percent Organic. The wine must be from 100 percent organically produced fruit. No added sulfites are allowed. Sulfites occur naturally during fermentation, but cannot be more than 100 parts per million.
  2. Organic. When labeling your product as “Organic,” it must contain at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients, not counting added water and salt, and can have sulfites up to 100 parts per million.
  3. Made with Organically Grown Grapes. Grapes must be grown organically. Sulfites may be added.  
  4. Some Organic Ingredients. The wine has less than 70 percent organic ingredients. The label can't have any information about a certifying agency or any other reference to organic content.

To be considered “certified organic”, you’ve got to put forth some serious effort. Organic farmers are regularly monitored by government agencies to keep their certification. They also have to pay fees to continue to be labeled “organic.” My take on organic farmers is that you can’t question their empathy for the Earth. These people care about the future of farming the land where they currently reside. It’s sad to say that not all grape growers/winemakers think they need to consider the health of the land first. Profits trump altruism in most businesses and the wine industry is no different. That being said, it seems we’re on the right path to finding a way to meet both profits and conscientious farming.

 Biodynamic- Biodynamic takes organic to a whole new extreme. It is overseen by the Demeter Association. This is the brain child of an Austrian doctor from the early 1900's named Rudolf Steiner.  A biodynamic wine comes from more than just a vineyard, it comes from a farm. Biodynamic farmers use everything from their own farm to get the nutrients they need to keep everything growing properly. To prepare the soil, they use the following:

Preparation 500- Cow horns filled with cow manure and then buried through the winter

Preparation 501- Cow horns filled with quartz and buried through the summer

Preparation 502- A stag’s bladder is filled with Yarrow flowers. They hang it in the summer, bury it in the winter and then dig it up in the spring to be used in compost.

Preparation 503- Cow intestines are filled with chamomile flowers and put through the same process as 502

Preparation 504- Stinging nettles are buried in the summer and used in the compost the next Autumn

Preparation 505- A farm animal’s skull is filled with oak bark and then buried in a watery area. The oak bark is used for compost

Preparation 506- The mesentery of a cow is filled with dandelions, hung in the summer, buried in the winter and then used in compost

Preparation 507- The juice of the Valerian flower is used in the compost

Preparation 508- Common Horsetail is made into tea and liquid manure and used on the vines and soil.

Biodynamic farmers also use the alignment of the stars to plant and grow their vines. I said earlier in the piece that organic farmers are empathetic toward the Earth, biodynamic farmers are the Earth’s best friend. Some people might say that this is hocus pocus, but to me it doesn’t matter if the effect on the wine is great or not. I know I can have confidence in these wines because if they are that meticulous about farming, they’re probably that way about every step that goes into making the wine. You might say this seems more than a little strange, but you can never accuse them of being boring. I hate boring. 

Now the answer to the trivia question. Beer is older than wine by approximately 2000 years.