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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.
(OIV) 

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