THE BLOG
05/16/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Organic Wine: A Small Step in the Right Direction

Grape growers never used to say anything about being "organic". They didn't bother to mention much about the subject, because "organic" and high quality wines were not equated in the wine buyer's mind. Today, the public's interest in healthy food, and healthy wine has changed this perception. Quality grape growers and winemakers, who have been practicing organic and sustainable farming, continue to do so, but there is a swelling interest from the public about who they are. Retail wine shops have dedicated sections of their stores to "organic", "biodynamic", and "sustainable producers", and "natural wines," which really should push the industry toward a better direction of healthier and superior wine.

Some of the finest, and most dedicated distributors and importers in the US have selected the most prized wine producers around the globe at least partially because of the meticulous standards of these producers. Jenny Lefcourt, co-owner of Jenny & Francois, a small importer/distributor based in New York City, built a company based on 'Natural Wines', meaning they are organic and/or practicing organic in the vineyards, and are also committed in the cellar, using indigenous yeast, low SO2, little to no filtering, and non-interventionist winemaking. Michael Skurnik Wines, a terrific importer and distributor of fine wines makes the following statement on their website;

"Yes, while other companies tout themselves as the leader in the category, beware of 'marketing spin'. Many are trying to take advantage of the 'green' phenomenon, promoting 'organic' practices or not!"

Organic

That marketing spin jeopardizes a commitment to integrity in wine, using the existing laws,and leaves a lot of room for the less scrupulous wine producers to operate. They are able to make the claims for 'organic', whether they have any interest removing chemicals and manipulation from the winemaking processes. The term 'organic' refers to grape growing , and has no bearing on cellar practices. The laws are specified by country, and in the United States you can farm the grapes 95% organically, pay no attention to yields, add commercial yeasts, harvest the vineyards mechanically, pummel the pomace, add sulfites, and still label the wine 'made from organically grown grapes'. Each state is in charge of controlling the certification for organic vineyards.

The European Union has a different set of standards. Wines that are labeled as organic, biodynamic, and natural may have sulfites from naturally derived sources , and copper sulfate is allowed in the vineyards to prevent odium (a fungal disease). Still, the term 'organic' only applies to vineyard practices.

Biodynamic

Peter Wasserman, of Becky Wasserman Imports describes biodynamic farming as...

...following the methods of Rudolf Steiner. Here the difference is that there is a very developed use of preparations, which are organic and are used to boost the vineyard's auto immune system as well as promote a healthy renewal of micro flora and micro fauna throughout the vineyard. There are specific times which are recommended to do specific work in the vineyard. For example; on a waxing moon the tide rises, hence in the biodynamic world one would not prune at that time because it would cause the plant to bleed sap, as opposed to a waining moon when the sap would naturally be drawn back into the plant. To dispel any notion this is fantasy, there have been scientific studies that prove there are far more micro-organisms in a biodynamic vineyard than in an organic or sustainable one.

Natural Wine

Natural wines, which encompass the philosophy of both vineyard and the cellar, have unfortunately the least legal definition. Those dedicated to "natural wines" are looking for the full committed philosophy in both the vineyards and the winemaking process.

Jenny Lefcourt, co-owner of Jenny & Francois importing company has based her livelihood on promoting 'Natural' wines. She promotes winemakers who work like artisans, crafting a new wine each year.

Jenny says:

These are handmade wines in the truest sense from a group of passionate winemakers that go one step further than organic and biodynamic producers by using organic methods in the cellar as well as in the vineyard-meaning no laboratory yeasts, enzymes, sugar, artificial concentrators, acidification, or sulfites are added during fermentation, and the wines are aged and bottled without stabilizers, or excessive filtering or sulfites.

Equally important, these grower-producers take special care to reduce yields, handpick the grapes, avoid pumps or other rough treatment of their harvest, and plow the earth between the vines, which force the roots to dive down deep in a thirsty search for terroir.

Organic wines, Biodynamic wines, and Natural Wines hold the interest of both the public and the industry to be in better harmony with the land, and make a healthier product. This is clearly a good development. Be careful of the spin doctors, and buy wine in places that know the difference.

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