Organic for Earth Day?

Are you just fooling yourself?


It being earth day tomorrow I thought this would be a fine time to explore attitude towards the whole organic/natural/biodynamic movement. I reached out to some wine professionals to get their opinions about these wines, but before I turn the stage over to them I’d like to explore the situation briefly.

Before we consider the value of these wines let’s be as clear as possible in regards to the definitions, whichcan be vague.

To begin with there is no organic wine, just wine made from organic grapes. Organic is a way of growing crops,the techniques used in the cellar, and additional treatments in the vineyard are what distinguishes, to a great extent, the wines peddled under the moniker natural or biodynamic.
So organic wine, ie wines produced from organically grown grapes, can and often do undergo traditional commercial winemaking techniques. natural winemakers eschew all intervention in the vineyards and in the cellars, ie no additives, acid adjustments, cultivated yeasts and preferably dry farming with. Sulphites are kept to a minimum, though some natural winemakers go so far as to not use sulfites, which can give stunning results but create a wine that is so delicate and predisposed to  bacterial growth as to be commercially unviable.
Finally there are the biodynamic producers who are essentially natural winemakers who view their estate as a closed, living entity and work by the phases of the moon. 
So what is not to like? For starters, there still remain quite a few defective wines that get sold, and praised because they are natural. I have nothing but the utmost respect for natural and biodynamic winemakers. They work harder and against unlikelier odds than virtually any other farmer on earth, but their job is to make wine. I am fairly forgiving in regards to wine faults. A bit of VA, some brett, it’s all good.  Really funky wines that are off putting and fall well below the average of quality today, well that I can not forgive. 
So if someone had asked the question that I have asked of me:
What are your thoughts on organic/natural/biodynamic wine?
I would reply thusly:
They are generally fine, in fact many of the wines I enjoy are produced organically and naturally, even though the producer often haven’t bothered to get any official recognition. Wines that are produced by conscientious producers working naturally show better detail and more transparency that most of their counterparts. This is undoubtedly results from their efforts in the vineyards. Working naturally requires more attention and this attention tends to extend to work in the cellar as well. I would be hard pressed to say that natural and/or organic farming is by definition better than any alternative, though the use of herbicides in particular disgusts me. By fermentations with natural yeasts, the the low level stress that naturally farmed vines enjoy do seem to have a profound affect on the finished wines and given the choice I would opt for a naturally made wine over a commercially made wine  nine out of ten times. 
What do you think about these wines? We asked our panel of experts and they shared their opinions with us.

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  • Snooth User: S McKenna27
    1298564 33

    Great article and I love that you've quoted a Canadian wine shop owner!

    Apr 21, 2014 at 9:33 AM

  • In the past, some of the most well-respected winemakers have embraced the principles of biodynamic winemaking ... and failed miserably to produce a wine that was up-to-standard. However, they continued to experiment and, nowadays, some of them make stunning wines (eg. Michel Chapoutier, Anne-Claude Leflaive, ...)

    It takes money to make money ... don't be fooled by the idea that winemakers are only making wine out of passion (!) Passion is what usually moves a person to become a winemaker, but the business model is never out of sight. To produce wines biodynamically holds a risk; the quality of the wines may not be up to their normal standards. If this happens a few vintages in a row, most winemakers will go bankrupt.
    Money is an issue.

    Speaking of money, I believe Mr. Parker has a point when he made his remarks about organic wines. Not so long time ago, alot of wine producers saw an opportunity to make more money just by (ab)using the name ''organic''. When the wine press started to write about organic wines, the winemakers believed organic wines would become the next trend. Organic became synonym for extra bucks.

    Nowadays, there are many good wine producers that make good organic wines. And just like the wines from conventional winemakers, some of the organic wines are really bad. Organic, in my opinion, says nothing about the wines's quality (!) it says something about how the wines were vinified, the vineyards and the grapes were treated. To me, it is just like AOC and IGP labels in France or DO and DOCa rules in Spain ... an AOC wine from France is not by definition better than an IGP wine from the same region. Is a Rioja (DOCa) always better than a wine from Ribera del Duero (DO) ? Definitely NO.

    We should all encourage winemakers to work organically. It is better for mother nature and to a limited aspect healthier for us (there may be also down-sides to our health).
    But in the end, what only matters to me is the quality of the wine. To most consumers it only matters whether or not they like to drink the wine and if it is affordable to them.
    Here, in Europe, I do not see many die-hard followers of the ''natural wine'' trend.

    Apr 21, 2014 at 10:51 AM

  • Snooth User: organicwinelady
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    455108 67

    There are actually USDA Certified Organic Wines, which are both made with organically grown grapes and have no added sulphites (NSA). There are strict regulations set forth by the USDA which all wines carrying the seal must adhere to. There are NO regulations that define "Natural" wine and that term means so many different things to different producers that in the end it means little to the consumer.

    Certified organic wines successfully being imported from France, Spain, Italy and other countries. These wines are unique, flavorful and meant to be consumed young. They are quite commercially viable and can be found in retail stores across the country, including Whole Foods nationwide as well as many purveyors online. Lisa Bell, Natural Merchants organic wine importer

    Apr 21, 2014 at 5:14 PM

  • Snooth User: sweedld
    160650 3

    Modern winemaking can employ dozens (perhaps only one or two but many more can be thrown at wine to make it fetch a higher price) of natural and man made agents to clarify and remove substances considered a defect. Fining agents include man made from animal sources like isinglas from fish bladders, gelatins, caseins, albumins, seaweed polymers and also fully synthetic polymers like polyvinyl pyrrolidinone or PVPP in various charge states. Modified clays including bentonite and diatomacious earths are also used to clarify wines and remove excess tannin and off flavors. Enzymes from natural and synthetic biotech sources are used to clear hazes and remove proteins that refuse to settle out. And let's not forget about the ultimate band-aid called ultrafiltration that can separate small molecules including ethyl alcohol with man made synthetic hollow fiber membrane cartridges. All of this technology is not disclosed by the winemaker although much of it is so expensive to buy that smaller winemakers eschew it for economic reasons altogether. Larger producers can employ these technologies to keep their products consistent across vintages and when sourcing grapes from many different vineyards. So the idea of organic wine production is one that actually does cross over from the vineyard into the winery. I think this problem is most prevalent in new world wineries that stress a very fruit forward "varietal characteristic" that must shine through any other character the wine may have. Especially white wines from California and Washington State. How many wines stress that they are Vegan and contain zero animal proteins?

    Apr 21, 2014 at 6:07 PM

  • Snooth User: Gene Barry
    1124102 8

    some of them are really awful...sad to say. Still need great fruit and a experienced hand to make great wine!

    Apr 21, 2014 at 9:16 PM

  • Snooth User: William Djubin
    Hand of Snooth
    1464471 1,176

    Nice job. Thanks GDP.

    Apr 22, 2014 at 1:55 AM

  • Nice article Gregory!

    Apr 22, 2014 at 1:04 PM

  • Snooth User: ELENA RESTIANI
    Hand of Snooth
    1495805 49

    Organic is not necessarily the most efficient wine production system in fact, it is slower, hard, complex and arduous. Against this preserves biodiversity and local traditions, limits the use of chemical toxins and environmental impact, quality standards and ensures full traceability of the product.
    Organic involves more work than labor, more controls on the grapes, less economic rent for the company, but the greatest satisfaction is to open the wine bottle and feel a scent that reminds me of the freshness-flavor-scent of the terroir and organic grapes from which it is derived.
    The pursuit of goodness and quality is the organic farmer's goal, and if one day the most of the people will end up being skeptical about the organic wine, this will be a great day to be applauded as inhabitants of this earth. However, after the applause, back in silence to deal with wine because it needs great grapes and experienced work
    I’m grateful for this article on your blog .. work organically it is better for mother nature and to an aspect healthier for us… allowing a bit 'of drunkenness quality:)))))))
    Come to visit us when you plan a trip in a organic Italian Winery…Luretta :)

    Apr 23, 2014 at 4:39 PM

  • I don't have much "organic" wine in my cellar, but last month I had a 1989 Alicante Bouschet from Sonoma County (Toplolos at Russian River) that was "Dry Farmed, Old Vines, Pesticide Free, Organic." It was delicious, fruity, and smooth. People have been making wine like this forever, but it is a commitment and a labor of love (see: Frequently, when I would visit his winery, Michael Topolos would take me around his vineyards and explain to me the changes he made to improve on his efforts to grow good grapes to make good wine in an organic way. The philosophy he expressed to me was: "Only take out of the earth what she is willing give and she will reward you." It worked for him but there aren't many of him around.

    Apr 23, 2014 at 10:10 PM

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