What’s the difference between organic and biodynamic wines?

Organic and biodynamic wines are all the rage these days. The words sound impressive on labels – but what do these terms actually mean? Old Vine vino maestro Marcelo explains:

Organic wines are produced from grapes grown without the use of fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides or pesticides.

Although sulphites occur naturally in wines, the addition of sulphites is not permitted according to EU regulations in production of organic wines.

Biodynamic viticulture is a step above organic viticulture. Grapes must be produced according to organic principles – additionally, natural processes to help the vine exist as an individual ecosystem must be stimulated.

This ecosystem is achieved by establishing the growth of living microbes in the soil and roots, which in turn help the roots to absorb more micro-nutrients. These compounds end up affecting the grape flavour.

Various principles must be observed to keep the four “organs” of the vine healthy: the root, leaf/shoot, flower and fruit.

Each plant component is said to be favoured during particular points of the moon’s sidereal cycle, when the moon passes in front of one of the 12 constellations of the astronomical (rather than astrological) zodiac.

For example, spraying horn manure (specially fermented cow manure) on the soil for root growth is said to be most effective if the moon is in front of an earth/root constellation such as Bull, Virgin, or Goat.

These windows occur every nine days or so, but for two or three days only, so only the smallest vineyards, or those with abundant labour, can time all their agricultural work according to the biodynamic calendar.

Biodynamicists claim that, on conventional vineyards, where neither biodynamic compost nor the field spray preparations are used, the effect of these earthly and celestial rhythms will not be felt, as the soil and the vines will not have been sensitized to them.

Field sprays are used at different times of the growing season, containing silica of cow’s horns, cow manure, oak bark, ground quartz, chamomile, dandelion and yarrow flowers.

Where vine pests need to be controlled in biodynamic farming, a number of the pests are collected, burnt, and their ashes scattered around the affected area to discourage future infestations. Predators to the pests are introduced to the fields to keep them under control.

Cellar work is also said to benefit from the biodynamic calendar, with, it is claimed, bottling best under Lion if the wine is designed to age (the heat/fruit ‘force’ will be most concentrated in the wine at this point, so bottling then will capture or seal it).

Sounds eccentric? Some wine growers and wine makers adopt some of the principles but not all.  

So is it worth paying extra for organic or biodynamic bottles? While consumers might appreciate the eco and health benefits implied with organic and bio wines, according to wine authority Jancis Robinson organic wines do not taste any different from ordinary wines. Looks like the jury is still out…

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