Organic, biodynamic, natural wines…. These wines are all the rage recently, and understandably, as many people are paying more attention to what food and drink they put in their body. But what do these labels actually mean? Are they making the wine better?
Organic wines are those made from grapes grown organically, as in not using chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides or herbicides. Note that there are no regulations once the wine enters the cellar: no limits on sulfites or other chemicals allowed in the winemaking process. Biodynamics takes these principles a step further, creating a holistic agriculture system, using homeopathy and following lunar considerations in farming, as well as after the harvest of the grapes, in the winemaking process. Natural wines are the furthest extreme, with as little chemical and technological intervention as humanly possible.
I love the idea of lessening the use of chemicals and making wine as natural a product as possible. However, first and foremost, I like good wine. I’ve opened natural wines that have started re-fermenting in the bottle… and though I’ve heard a winemaker tell me “It’s okay, that’s how it’s supposed to be if nature wants it that way” – sorry, to me that is a fault. Some winemakers use the word “natural” to compensate for bad winemaking.
I do believe that the best wines ARE made as naturally as possibly, but on the other end of the spectrum; some winemakers use these labels as a marketing ploy, without truly embracing the principles on which they are founded. I’ve opened organic bottles that reek of sulfur. I’ve been told of wines that are organically grown that have acidity added during the winemaking process, or that are then dealcoholized.
That’s not to say that all organic, biodynamic and natural wines are a ploy. Taste the ethereal Muscadets of Jo Landron, for examples, and you will understand how biodynamics can elevate the product of a vineyard. I had the opportunity to attend Millesime Bio, a few weeks ago, the largest organic (and biodynamic and natural) wine fair in the world, and the average quality of the wines was impressive. It is heartening to know that the majority of winemakers are taking these ideas very seriously, and not just paying them lip service.