We are becoming accustomed to seeing terms like “organic”, “vegan” and “biodynamic” on food and drink packaging but what do these terms mean when they appear on wine labels? Read on to find out what astrology, egg whites, and roaming hens all have to do with making your wine healthier.
Maybe like an increasing crowd of health-conscious people, you have started to look into organic produce. When you think of organic fruit and veggies what comes to mind? Bananas and nectarines, cucumbers and carrots all grown without the aid of potentially harmful pesticides, fertilizers or herbicides, right?
Well, this is exactly what organic wine is; grapes are cultivated without the help of toxic protective or growth inducing substances.
Occasionally, you may see that organic wines contain sulfites but that is entirely natural, a result of the fermentation process wine undergoes. In organic wine though sulfites are not added to halt oxidation, a practice that is part of standard wine production.
How does organic wine taste
So how does organic wine taste? Can you expect a better, inferior, or similar taste to your organic Chardonnay or Pinot Noir? The answer is your favorite varietal, although made into wine through an organic process, will taste the same as vino produced in a regular non-organic fashion. While the raw material, that is the grape, will likely be of slightly superior quality to fruit grown with pesticide treatment etc, a great deal of how a wine tastes is down to what happens to the grapes after harvest when they enter the winery. A winemaker is a little like an artist who creates with grapes. He or she has a realm of choices available to craft the organically grown grape into a style of wine that consumers will enjoy.
There is a benefit to organic wine, in the same way, there is an advantage to eating organic produce; you lower the risk of running into unpleasant chemicals so can enjoy what is in your glass even more.
Like with other products, these days it is generally something to brag about if your wine is organic so it should not be difficult to find a reference to this fact somewhere on the label. Also, many countries have an official certifying body that approves organic production standards. If a wine has been approved by the local organization, there should be a stamp on the label. Many wine-producing countries make organic vinos today so a little exploration should yield some interesting discoveries if you would like to drink this kind of natural wine.
How Winemakers are doing Organic Wine
One organic practice in a vineyard usually leads to another. This could include using compost that attracts insects supportive of vine health, making provisions for areas where local wildlife can thrive to prevent them from eating grapes, allowing hens to wander around vineyards to add their natural touch to the environment, and using bio-diesel tractors when plowing. These vineyard practices all take the bigger picture into account and support sustainable farming, a growing feature of organic farming.
You might ask how on earth wine cannot be vegan. It is made from fermented grapes after all. But you know when you are assessing a glass of wine and a point you have to consider is its clarity?
There is a reason for this. Left to its own devices a wine would end up cloudy in the bottle and your glass. This is because of the fermentation process. Sugars are converted into alcohol and this results in wine. It also results in multiple molecules floating in the liquid. These could be phenolics, tannins, or tartrates. They are harmless to drink but do not look very pretty so before it goes into the bottle, wine goes through something called fining. This is the process of removing cloudiness from the liquid and is achieved by using a fining agent.
Some winemakers have taken this on board in order to enter the growing vegan market and use non-animal products in fining.
Such agents traditionally contain animal products like egg whites or milk protein, all substances that are great at attracting clouds of molecules so that they can be extracted from the wine in one easy move.
While very little of these agents remain in the wine, there can technically be traces, making it non-vegan. Some winemakers have taken this on board in order to enter the growing vegan market and use non-animal products in fining. These include clay or plant-based materials. Some even leave fermentation sediments in the wines and allow them to settle naturally.
This type of wine is super-interesting and also super-weird in a good way! First of all, have you heard of Rudolf Joseph Lorenz Steiner? This fascinating man was born in 1861 in what was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and is now Croatia. He was something of a polymath studying and writing about education, spirituality, philosophy, the arts, social reform…and the list goes on.
Where Steiner connects to wine is in the field of biodynamic agriculture, a practice that has extended to vine cultivation. Biodynamic farming was spawned from Steiner’s ideas and considers the entire growing ecosystem – soil health, the position of the stars, the phases of the moon, astrology, and all sorts of habits that could be regarded as eccentric, mystical, and esoteric.
Many vintners who implement biodynamic processes within their vineyards say that it produces better, healthier grapes.
Soil health is a fundamental facet of biodynamic viniculture. Intricate blends of herbs and composts are dispensed in a vineyard in a carefully timed manner tied to the movements of the heavenly bodies.
The thing is though, it works! Many vintners who implement biodynamic processes within their vineyards say that it produces better, healthier grapes. There must be something in it because biodynamic viniculture is practiced in France, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Austria, Germany, Australia, Chile, Peru, South Africa, Canada, and the United States. It even has its own standards and certification organization: Demeter International.
Wines produced with biodynamic methods are sometimes a little cloudy or natural-looking because no fining agents are used in the winemaking processes and they are usually full and fruity. Cheers!
Organic, vegan, and biodynamic wine are here to stay so start exploring and enjoy the journey!