What is the difference between Organic, Sustainable and Biodynamic Wines?
Consumers have become increasingly conscientious about their purchasing habits. A survey conducted by Accenture, found that a whopping 72% of Americans are currently buying more environmentally friendly than they were five years ago and 81% expect to expand their purchases in the next five years. This movement toward a greener planet is rapidly growing in popularity. Terms like organic, biodynamic and sustainable are consistently becoming the “norm” on product labels across all industries. But what do these terms mean? And more importantly, what do they mean for our wine? (Because let’s be honest, wine really does make the world go round.)
To understand what these terms mean for wine, we must first understand the differences between them. When compared, they’re loaded with an odd mix of parallels and intersections that can cause confusion. You can create a wine filled Ven Diagram on your own or enjoy a glass of vino and follow along as we pour out the differences between organic, biodynamic and sustainable wines.
Organic is a label generously tossed around in the agriculture industry. You can literally find it EVERYWHERE. But just because you shop at an eco-conscious store, doesn’t make you 100% organic. And the same applies to your wine. Not all organic wines are treated equally. In fact, there are multiple ways a wine can be classified as organic. They can be “certified organic,” which allows it to have a legal certification, most commonly found under USDA Organic, EU Organic or they can be labeled, “made with organic grapes.” Each classification has a common starting point. They are made from grapes grown without the use of any synthetic pesticides, contain no GMO’s and use only organic additives, such as organic yeast. What is the key divider between these groups? Sulfites.
Some people think of sulfites as the day-after-drinking-headache, but they are actually the most useful component for preserving wine. The number of sulfites in a liter of wine can range from 5 mg/L (5 parts per million) to about 200 mg/L. The maximum legal limit in the United States, per bottle of wine, is 350 mg/L. Below we break out the differences in sulfites between three common classifications.
USDA Organic: No added sulfites, but 10 mg/L of naturally occurring sulfites may be present.
EU Organic: Will contain added sulfites but are limited to 100 mg/L in red wine and 150 mg/L in white and Rosé wine.
“Made with organic grapes”: Can contain up to 100 mg/L in added sulfites.
If you’re interested in finding an organic wine, our recommendation would be to start with our Sourced & Certified, Château Trians Provence Rosé. Château Trians practices organic viticulture throughout its vineyards and has been organically certified since 2008. If you don’t sway with Rosé, then go for La Cappuccino Pinot Grigio. This certified organic Italian wine is perfect for a warm Florida evening. Its intense aromas of apple and mandarin are finished by soft fragrant notes. Looking for something that pushes your palate? Try Philippe Zinck’s Gewürztraminer. Created using both organic and biodynamic practices, this French wine is filled with exotic fruit flavors and floral notes. All are great options for starting on your organic wine quest. Just remember, since organic wines lack the same level of sulfites, they won’t age the same. Store them in a cool environment for optimal enjoyment.
If you consider yourself a holistic goddess of the Earth, Moon and Sun, then biodynamic wines will soon be in your horoscope. Based on the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner’s writings, biodynamic farming fuses scientific understanding with the recognition of spirit in nature. His ideas adhere to a holistic and homeopathic approach to farming. Winemakers that follow his practice think of the vineyard as an entire ecosystem and farm in harmony with lunar, solar and cosmic rhythms.
Like organic wines, biodynamic wines are created without the use of any man-made chemicals. However, this process goes beyond the organic sphere by eliminating any additives from growth to fermentation. Starting first with the soil, which is also considered the most vital component in a biodynamic winemaker’s operation. They begin by treating the earth with nine preparations made from fermented herbs, minerals, cow manure and horns that are incorporated into compost and field sprays. These preparations are believed to create bacteria and fungi to stimulate the soil for plant growth and vitality. From the growth stage to full maturity, they follow four calendar periods that are determined by lunar cycles and astrological signs: Fruit days, Root days, Flower day and Leaf days.
Fruit Days: Based upon the fire signs, fruit days are said to be the best days for harvesting grapes
Root Days: Rooted in the earth signs, these days are ideal for pruning
Flower Days: Flower days occur during air signs, which are the best days to let the vineyard rest
Leaf Days: These days arise during water signs, making them an optimal time to water the vineyard
Once the grapes are prime to pluck, they are then taken to be naturally fermented and bottled. The entire process can be quite pricey and for a wine to be classified as biodynamic, the winemakers must follow a set of strict rules and regulations. The two most popular known governing bodies of this classification are Demeter and Biodyvin. Demeter was established in the US in 1985 as a non-profit, consisting of a network of individual certification organizations in 45 countries around the world. If an item is certified by Demeter, you’ll find their trademarks on the label; “Biodynamic®” and “Demeter®”. Biodyvin runs a slightly smaller operation, but still holds immense value in the biodynamic sphere. Biodyvin was created by a group of 160 European winegrowers from France, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland, in 1995. To be accepted, a vineyard must be farmed entirely with biodynamic practices and follow a set of specified rules for viticulture and vinification.
Did this spike your interest? If so, our wine expert Atanas Nechkov has a few delicious suggestions for you. For white wine options, he recommends you go for Dom Josmeyer Riesling or Loic Mahe Savennieres Sables & Schistes. Dom Josmeyer Riesling is a pure and mineral wine with delicate spices, that leaves a citrus finish. Pair it with shellfish or cheese to balance the lemony flavors. Loic Mahe Savennieres Sables & Schistes is another fantastic option from Loire, France. It has aromas of white flowers, citrus and white fruits. If you’d rather enjoy a red, pick up a bottle of Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem of the Coteaux Du Languedoc region. This wine reflects the region’s diverse terroirs and holds rich black cherry and spice aromas.
Sustainability simply means capable of being sustained. If something is sustainable, it has the ability to be maintained at a certain rate while avoiding the depletion of natural resources in order to keep ecological balance. In winemaking, it can be a combination of organic, non-organic and biodynamic practices that best suits the surrounding businesses and ecosystems. Sustainable vineyards make their decisions based upon resource management. They focus on issues related to their specific geography and act as stewards of the land while preserving natural resources, improving air and water quality and protecting surrounding wildlife habitats. Common practices may include switching to bio-diesel fuels to reduce harmful emissions or composting and cultivating plants that attract insects like mites and spiders which act as natural pesticides.
Being a guardian of both natural and human resources allows for a myriad of sustainability certifications. Every climate has their unique stresses which means the standards of sustainability may vary. Although it can be pricey for a vineyard to transition to a sustainable state, many wineries have made the move.
“A good example of sustainable farming is Shannon Ridge Winery in Lake County, California,” says, Atanas. “Lake County boasts an ideal climate and altitude for sustainable wine-grape production; higher and drier mountains have less pests and mildew pressure. Cold winters reduce pest population and a shorter season requires fewer pesticide and other applications. As a result, Lake County is among the lowest pesticide use area of any wine region in California.”
The easiest way to lead a more sustainable life is through the wine you drink. We suggest trying Benziger Chardonnay, Shannon Ridge Petit Sirah, 7 Deadly Zins and McManis Cabernet Sauvignon, to name a few. Benziger Family Winery’s Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are both farmed sustainably and are equally delicious. If you love an oak-forward Chardonnay, we highly recommend picking up a bottle of this eco-friendly wine. Its ripe peach, pear and vanilla flavors are perfectly complimented by a rounded, yet subtle oak finish. If you’re transitioning to a darker option, Shannon Ridge Petite Sirah is a great choice. It has notes of ripe blueberry and cider with hints of warm vanilla. 7 Deadly Zins is also a wonderful option and a fan favorite. This Lodi-produced Zinfandel is filled with spice and earthy flavors. Is smoky more your taste? Then McManis Cabernet Sauvignon should be your top pick on the sustainable spectrum. The dark fruit flavors pair perfectly with hints of smoke, ideal to sip on while enjoying grass-fed beef of dark chocolate.
There are so many beautiful wines in each eco-friendly classification. Scope out the label on your favorite bottle to see if you’re already enjoying an organic, biodynamic or sustainable option. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a wine expert during your next visit to ABC Fine Wine & Spirits if you are interested in expanding your horizons. They will be able to find an option that best fits your taste and preference.