For many, the true battle of the wines is no longer fought between different vintages and brands, but is instead fought between the newer crop of organic wines and wines that are created using older methods that involve man-made fertilisers and chemicals. Even more recently, the idea of biodynamic wines has been making the rounds and gaining in popularity, adding another competitor in regards to wine production methods and creating an ever widening collection of vintages to be sampled by the general consumer.
The organic methodology is a fairly recent phenomenon and is likely familiar to food shoppers who are looking to purchase ingredients that are generally considered to be healthier than the general stock on the shelves. Generally speaking, a product is considered organic if the ingredients used in it were produced using wholly natural farming methods. This doesn’t exclude the use of man-made tools, but instead means that chemicals, man-made fertilisers and pesticides are all absent from the production method, making the product as natural as possible.
As with many food stuffs, there is currently a large market for organic wine. These wines first appeared on the market in the 1980s, however at the time many consumers considered them to be inferior to non-organic wines that were sold at similar price points, with many pointing to how genetic modification and newer techniques ensured that ingredients in non-organic wines achieved maximum taste.
However, it was later revealed that the issue was not so much with the ingredients but instead lay with the production methodology. In particular, the lack of sulphur dioxide in organic wines was an enormous factor, as the compound plays a large part in preserving wines. Its strong antioxidant and antimicrobial properties help to inhibit the growth of various moulds and bacteria, which in turn preserves the wine’s natural flavour for much longer.
It was an issue that needed to be solved of organic wines were to be taken seriously by the public. Eventually the decision was made to begin including sulphites in the organic production process. While some would claim that this goes against the entire concept of an organic wine, others argue that it may actually be impossible to make a good wine without sulphites. The veracity of this claim generally goes unchallenged, however in recent years a number of winemakers have been working on production methods that allow compositions to take advantage of the natural sulphites that are chemically inactive in the wine, rather than adding extra sulphites to preserve the quality. The process is still in the earlier stages of development, but it is likely that sulphite addition will continue to decrease as methodology improves over the next few decades.
Having said this there are still dedicated organic winemakers who refuse to add any sulphites to their product. Such wines are generally considered the purest from an organic mind-set however, as mentioned, the quality of the wine itself is generally lower than those that do use sulphites.
What makes an organic wine?
So after all that, perhaps it is important to clarify what makes an organic wine. Simply put, an organic wine is one in which all of the grapes used in its production are grown organically. This means that no foreign substances, especially those using synthetic chemicals, have been used as part of the production.
Furthermore, natural chemical use is strictly controlled by the law and is generally limited to the use of a handful of chemicals that have been deemed harmless to the general public and thus safe for consumption. This all means that almost none of the most popular tools available to the traditional grape grower are available to those who choose the organic route.
Nevertheless, an organic grower will always concentrate on the overall health of the plant that they are growing. They will need to ensure that it is strong and can withstand the potential ravages of pests and other natural influences whilst still producing a good crop that is suitable for use in the production of wine.
Thanks to improved methodology, the general quality of organic wines is much improved from their inception in the 1980s, so much so that a large quantity of the organic wines produced today are considered to be premium vintages that any connoisseur will enjoy. One theory for this claims that, due to the natural resilience built up by organic crops, such grapes have the ability to maintain their quality in years where other vintages are experiencing a poor yield. The aim for many organic producers now is to reduce the reliance on sulphites to ensure that their product is as natural as possible.
As organic wine production began to increase in popularity, further alterations to the general methodology have been made by some producers. This has led to the rise of biodynamic wines, which take the conventions behind organic production and ramp them up to ensure that the production methods follow a strict set of rules to ensure the maximum level of quality.
For a wine to be considered biodynamic, the producer must use the nine biodynamic preparations. More information about the preparations can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biodynamic_wine, but generally speaking they involve careful preparation of natural fertilisers and soil improvers to ensure that the eventual crop is of as high a quality as possible.
In many cases it is believed to have worked. A number of blind tests that have compared biodynamic wines with more traditional vintages have found that biodynamics are generally considered to be of a superior quality. As for where such wines fall on the scale of organic wines, the difference is fairly simple. For a wine to be considered organic the producer must only make use of methodologies that involve the use of natural fertilisers and chemicals. In the case of biodynamic wines, the same principles apply, however the producer must ensure that they follow a strict set of rules as par for the course in production, ensuring a certain standard is met that may not always be achieved with an organic vintage.