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A Guide to Organic And Biodynamically Grown Wines
You can't judge a wine by its label
We get lots of questions from customers about why they don't see many wines labeled as "Organic" on our shelves. The truth is there are plenty of organic grapes, but very few organic wines.
Based on responses to my last Sulfite article, Associate Wine Guy Mark Finch did some research on the topic and came up with this great little guide that we now have available as a brochure in the store.
An Introduction to Organic and Biodynamically Grown Wines
Over the past couple of decades, consumer interest in organically-produced food products has grown tremendously. And while it still is a niche market, it is a rapidly-growing one, in large part because of its acceptance by large grocery retailers. For the past several years, the organic food industry has enjoyed an annual growth rate of 17-20 percent, while the growth rate of conventionally-produced food has plodded along at 2-3 percent.
To be certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a farm must use only approved materials that will not harm humans, animals, or soil life. It must develop an organic farm management plan, keep detailed records, and be inspected annually by an accredited certification agency. All companies that manufacture organic food products must follow similar strict requirements.
The foundation of biodynamic farming is a specific system of organic agriculture principles developed by Austrian scientist Rudolf Steiner in 1924. Special compost preparations based on cow manure and other substances are used as soil and plant activators, and planting and harvest times are determined by the lunar cycle.
For many vineyards, organic farming is nothing new — it’s just the way things have always been done, before chemical fertilizers and pesticides even existed. Many producers, including Errazuriz, Grgich Hills, Benziger and Quintessa, follow the biodynamic path.
Despite the wide acceptance of organic and biodynamic farming methods in the winemaking industry, any mention of these methods seldom makes it onto a wine’s label. This is largely because, with very few exceptions, sulfites are added during the winemaking process. This means that according to USDA standards they do not qualify as being organically produced.
Sulfur dioxide has been used in the winemaking process for thousands of years. There is evidence that the Romans used sulfur, and they may well have learned it from the Greeks.
Sulfite has three important functions in winemaking: It kills the wild yeasts and bacteria that are present on the fruit; it helps protect wine from oxidation; and it destroys the enzyme that causes browning in the juice. Wines produced without sulfites do exist, but none of them meet Grapevine Cottage’s selection criteria.
Some wineries use organic or biodynamic farming methods exclusively, while others may only apply those principles in certain vineyards. With that caveat in mind, the following are some of the producers whose wines we carry who we know use organic or biodynamic methods. (It’s likely that there are more that we aren’t aware of.)
Alma Rosa • Beckmen • Benziger • Bonterra • Carmen • Ca’ del Solo • Chapoutier • Chateau Montelena Concha y Toro • Domaine Leflaive • Ernst Loosen • Errazuriz • Fleury • Frog’s Leap • Grgich Hills • Kanu • King Estate • Lolonis • Napa Wine Co. • Penfolds • Quintessa • Sincerity • Sinskey • Schloss Wallhäusen
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April 25, 2012