The world is moving towards a more environmentally friendly and sustainable era, and every day more and more people are interested in organic food – and wine. The markets are creating specific sections for these products and the number of companies dedicated to the niche is increasing.
But what exactly are organic wines, and how do they differ from two other categories: natural wines and biodynamically produced wines?
In the United States, in order to obtain the “organic” label from the Department of Agriculture, wines must be made with grapes grown without synthetic fertilizers. All other ingredients in the wine, including the yeast responsible for fermentation, must also be organic and no sulfites can be added (natural sulfites are allowed).
This process, which begins in the vineyard, continues in the cellar and includes all the steps necessary to receive USDA certification, takes time and money. As such, the prices of these wines generally reflect the extra effort and cost.
A second category of organic, less rigorous, is that of wines produced from grapes from organic farming. In this case, the grapes must be organic, but not the other components of the wine. Sulphites are limited to 100 parts per million. These wines do not qualify for the USDA “Organic” label, although they may indicate on their labels that they are produced from organic grapes.
Biodynamics is another movement towards the ecology of the vineyard. It started in Austria in the 1920s and gained followers (and some critics) around the world. More a philosophy than a methodology, it is a question of agricultural practices which take into account the phases of the moon and respect the “forces” and “energy” of the earth, its flora and its fauna.
During the winemaking process, a specific astronomical calendar is observed, with preferable days for harvesting grapes (“fruit days”), pruning (“root days”), watering (“leaf days” ) and days when the vineyard must not be touched (“flower days”). Pesticides are avoided and only organic fertilizers are used. Sulphites are allowed. A common practice in the vineyard is to bury cow horns filled with compost which are disposed of after a certain time.
Most biodynamic wines are organic, but you don’t have to. Demeter is the entity that certifies and regulates biodynamic practices around the world.
Finally, there are natural wines, some of which have become cult. The key factor here is low intervention – in the vineyard and in the cellar. These wines undergo completely spontaneous fermentation (no commercial yeast used, only indigenous yeasts) and do not undergo processes such as fining, filtration or stabilization.
Sulphites are used, but in very small amounts. These wines are often “cloudy” due to the presence of solids which remain in suspension. But that’s only part of the fun!
Marcella Carneiro is a Certified Wine Specialist living in Key Biscayne since 2017. She works as a Wine Educator in the Miami area and as a Wine Consultant for The Golden Hog.
To reach Marcella for questions, you can email her at [email protected] You can also chat with Marcella and savor wines every Thursday from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Golden Hog on Harbor Plaza, 91 Harbor Dr., Key Biscayne. You can reach them at (305) 361-1300)