Biodynamic and Organic Wine: what does it mean for the future of the wine industry?
Throughout the centuries wine has been consumed by civilisations; as early as 7000 BC populations in Ancient China were sipping a fermented drink made from grapes and rice. Despite its long existence, wine hasn’t always been enjoyed as the inviting drink we know today; history books suggest that through the ages wine was often preferred to water in order to prevent illness: “Wine might have tasted awful, but alcohol was a built-in disinfectant” (New York Times). In fact, it wasn’t until the Renaissance that people began to understand that wine could be consumed for its taste, as well as its apparent healing properties (Paul Lukacs). Nowadays wine is being produced all over the world. With an estimated 16 million acres of vineyards across the globe (OIV), choosing the right wine can be a daunting prospect. Whilst Spain, China, France and Italy remain the dominant countries in viticulture – the cultivation and harvesting of grapes – as temperatures across the world rise, more countries are engaging in the practise of viniculture: the process of making wine. With increasing levels of production, the challenge for collective environmental responsibility now presents itself to winegrowers globally. As the International Organisation of Vine and Wine highlights in its 2008 report, scrutinising and assessing current methods of manufacturing wine are crucial for the wellbeing of our planet:
Activities in the vine and wine sector are highly dependent on natural resources: solar energy, climate, water, soils and the successful integration of these elements with ecological processes. Therefore, protection, and preservation of these natural assets through environmentally sustainable practices are imperative for the long-term viability of vitivinicultural activities.
In order to implement fundamental change and establish a unified, sustainable future for vineyards globally, the production of both biodynamic and organic wines play a significant role. Often confused with one another, or misunderstood as the same process, aware_ presents a guide to understanding the individual role both biodynamic and organic wine have to play in a sustainable future for winemakers globally.
Back to Basics: Biodynamic Wine
Whilst “clean” wines have risen in popularity in recent years, biodynamic methods of farming were developed by the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s. Steiner explored the belief that lunar patterns have a significant impact on the growth of plants and allocated particular days in the calendar to a singular farming practise: “fruit days (preferable for grape harvesting), root days (pruning), leaf days (watering) and flower days, where the vineyard should be untouched” (Wine Enthusiast). Nowadays there are iterations of biodynamic wine production but using compost as fertiliser and circumventing the use of pesticides define the practise. Many winegrowers will substitute the use of machinery for manual labour, which is proven to have significant environmental benefits on the surrounding land. Furthermore, in order for a wine to qualify as biodynamic, winemakers are prevented from adding “foreign agents like extra yeast or acid” (Savage Vines) in the final stages of production. According to sommeliers, this low intervention method of producing wine has a significant influence on the taste of the end product: “a true representation of the vineyard” (Savage Vines).
So what’s Organic Wine?
Both organic wine and biodynamic wine circumvent the use of pesticides, however organic wine production permits the inclusion of added sulphites, extra yeast, sugar and tartaric acid whilst fermenting (Savage Vines). Unlike biodynamic wine, a term which has been globally standardised, the qualifications for organic wine differs between countries. The European Union allows white wine up to 150 milligrams of sulphites, whilst US organic wines “can’t exceed 5% of the total product” (USDA). According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), “when a wine is labeled as being made with organic grapes, 100% of those grapes used must be certified organic” (USDA), whereas in 2012 the EU permitted winemakers to label wine made from organic grapes to be sold as organic wine (European Commission). Despite the added sulphites, through the prevention of pesticides and less added sugar and additives, organic wines remain a better choice, both environmentally and for consuming, to standard wines.
So whether the choice is biodynamic, organic, or natural – wine produced using traditional methods without the use of pesticides and with few additives, see our interview with Sips Berlin – the encouragement of sustainable production practices are fundamental to the future of both our planet and the wine industry. Wine that isn’t considered biodynamic or organic, instead using “plant protection products and soil conditioners and wine production inputs such as additives, processing aids and packaging materials” should be limited, if not stopped, to prevent further environmental impact (OIV). A research piece on “Sustainability in the Global Wine Industry” states, “the main priority for practitioners in the wine industry is leaving the land in better conditions […] for the next generation” (Science Direct).
by Eliza Edwards
aware_ meets Clara Higham-Stoianova, co-founder of Sips Berlin, to learn about how a life-long passion for good food and drink turned into mission to bring natural wine to the many, not just the few.
“Ordering in” became a cornerstone of pandemic existence after the novelty of sourdough loafs and batch cooking had subsided. As the familiar blue Wolt bikes dominated Berlin’s inner city cycle paths, natural wine aficionado Clara Higham-Stoianova and creative director Sean Gallagher were motivated to elevate this corner of the food industry which, until recent years, has been defined by stuffed crust pizzas and Chow Mein. With the restaurants still closed around them, Higham-Stoianova and Gallagher began to conceptualise a service that would not only bring high quality organic produce directly to your front-door step, but would also democratise the world of natural wine. With an ever-increasing awareness for clean eating and the global market for food delivery worth a staggering 150 billion dollars, it would appear they are onto something.
aware_: What inspired you to start Sips?
Sips: It started as an idea whilst we were sitting in the park together, in the mood for some natural wine and snacks and lamenting the lack of a delivery service with things we actually wanted to consume on it. From that conversation on, the idea was in motion and before we knew it our entire living room was piled high with boxes of wine, food and product samples to build our portfolio.
In a moment of madness, we both quit our jobs in the middle of the pandemic and went all-in on building a user-friendly portal into the world of natural wine.
aware_: Why natural wine?
Sips: We have definitely lost touch with provenance in modern societies. Knowing where something came from and the family behind it, why they used a certain technique and how the weather affected their harvest. These are all things we love to know, and that information changes the way we perceive and experience the products we are eating and drinking. Of course, a basic sensual pleasure centred around the smells and taste is involved too.
Natural wine tastes more nuanced in our opinion, there’s a whole world of flavours and tastes we had never come across in conventional wine.
aware_: As a company, how do you hope to embrace a holistic approach to sustainability?
Sips: Forming a community of people who share our values is really pivotal. Particularly in reference to sustainability. If we can celebrate the efforts of producers who are actually improving the earth through their farming, rather than just taking from the earth, then we have reached a good place. Sustainability is a key driver for Sips. When you consider how much we love to eat and drink as a species, then eating and drinking better products is an ideal we strive for. With this in mind, we’d love people to switch up their consumption patterns to include a more varied selection of food and drinks, with both sustainability and provenance playing a key role in what products we offer and the stories we tell.
Having launched our local delivery service in Berlin, we have made every effort to not contribute to waste and landfill, and opted for delivering the bottles “naked” in a crate, like the milkman. Whilst there was an obvious opportunity for pretty bags and branded boxes here, we decided to keep things stripped back to the bare essentials to let the wine do the talking.
aware_: What sets your wine suppliers apart from the rest? How do you approach selecting them?
Sips: We’d love to remove barriers to entry to drinking natural wines in terms of price, convenience and attitudes. If people are inspired, unintimidated and feeling good whilst ordering and consuming our wines then we have won. The whole point of Sips is to debunk the myths around natural wine and get more people drinking it. It is of course a special product too so we’d love to share insights and stories behind some of the incredible artisans we are working with too.
Our approach to sourcing wines in our import business is very personal, as with natural wines so much of the personality and the character of the producers goes into the wine itself. We always meet the makers and get to know their approach in a holistic sense before deciding to buy. Seeing healthy natural vines with biodiversity and wild plants growing between them improves the soil quality and nature’s regenerative capabilities no end – we look for that and want to see that from a vineyard.
aware_: How do you see the future of the wine industry?
Sips: In general, we’d love people to switch up their consumption patterns to include a more varied selection of food and drinks that are better for the planet. We don’t want to form a cult of natural wine worshippers but we would like a lot more people to have the chance to try it as an alternative.
The wine industry in general is, like other types of farming, harmful to the earth. Whilst natural wine production makes up just a tiny fraction of the wine industry, if there was more concern in the industry as a whole for the soil microbial activity and fewer industrial chemicals used – we would be in a better place. In the future, we could be consuming our wine in new ways too, like with more boxed wines as opposed to bottled. Reusable vessels for consumers to fill barrel-to-bottle could also be coming around the corner. The future of the wine industry hangs in adapting and there’s a lot that can be learnt from the farming techniques and low intervention practices of natural winemakers leading the way in sustainable wine production.
Same day delivery in Berlin and next day Germany wide are now available to order here.
by Eliza Edwards