The bio movement in wines cannot be viewed separately from the trends in agriculture where number of scandals concerning the proper labeling and the purity of the foods made many people ask the honest question “What do we eat?” and to demand a sincere answer from the producers. In the soil and water we can find various types of chemicals accumulated during the treatment against diseases and pests. Do you believe that the products grown on such soils are good for you?
The response of the wine and grape producers is the organic method of cultivating the vines as an alternative to the conventionally used fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides and in the wine industry – the introduction of number of mild practices. The organic production methods turn into a way of thinking where the health of the soils and biodiversity are of higher priority as compared to the marketing strategy. Did you know that Château Margaux uses grapes cultivated organically? No? Well, this is true belief in the ”green movement”.
And since bio wines have such a clean past many people expect to find a more different character or at least a higher concentration of the useful polyphenols and, respectively, stronger anti-oxidizing properties. At this stage the comparative studies of the chemical composition of biological and conventional wines do not show well marked differences in terms of the above characteristics. The clean production methods are a prerequisite for the better sensory profile of the wines but do not expect to identify easily the biological wines in a blind taste. This is because the organic practices are well integrated and do not reject the modern enological methods.
In 2012 the EU imposed restrictions that need to be observed in the production of bio wines. In order to certify a vineyard as biological it must go through a three-year period of conversion or transition in which only biological principles are employed in order to restore the soil. The grapes must be biologically certified and cultivated by biological farming without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, but the use of copper and sulfur products is not prohibited. There are restrictions concerning the enological practices that aim at preserving as much as possible the character of the wine and of the terroir. They involve the applied processing, the manipulation of the natural alcoholic content, sulfatation as a means of ensuring the hygiene and stability of the wine, the used purifying and filtering agents and others. Of course, it is prohibited to use grapes from GMO vineyards and enological products. The observance of these measures is proven by the certifying authorities which makes the entire process expensive and administratively burdensome. But everyone that stoically manages to meet all requirements receives the right to use legitimately the organic logo of the EU in combination with the code and sign of the certifying body
In the USA the requirements that organic wines must comply with, as defined in the Organic Foods Act, are rather different and the main difference being in the prohibition to add sulfites in the vinification process. They are an allergen that some people, especially those suffering from asthma, react to.
Biodynamic wines add to the philosophy of purity in nature and in the glass and even bring the biological principles to an almost esoteric level. Biodynamic farming stands on the ideas of Rudolf Steiner – an Austrian philosopher, farmer and a man of strong spiritual power. The main focus lies on the vineyard and the methods of cultivating the grapes whereas the basic idea is that the health and properties of the grapes are a precondition for the purity and expressiveness of the fl avors in the wine.
The vineyard is a part of the holistic system of farming where each organism plays its role in the cycle of life. The farm is based on the principles of biodiversity, the rotation of crops and on its self-sustainability. In the vineyard the planning of each activity – fertilizing the soil, processing and picking of the grapes are synchronized according to the cycles of the universe (these are the positions of the sun, moon and the planets).
The care for the fertility of the soil and the health of the vines no longer depends on synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides and is placed in the hands of nine biodynamic products that are produced and applied on a homeopathic principle. Although strange raw materials are used each one has its specific application. The biodynamics uses cow horns filled with fertilizer and the common plants yarrow, chamomile, nettle, dandelion, valerian herb, equisetum and oak bark.
The fertilizer in the cow horn is buried in the rich soil throughout the winter and is used for intensive fertilization of the vines in spring. There are also fine grounded silica parts in the cow horn but they stay in the summer and are used in autumn. At that time the intensity of the sun radiation is lower and they reflect the light to the soil and leafs. The plants used in the biodynamics regulate the activity of the microorganisms responsible for the mineral balance in the soil. The preparation of the biodynamic products is not an easy task and involves certain ritual elements: for example, the spraying mixtures must be stirred for over an hour in only one direction after which the direction is changed. The biodynamic vineyards also must pass through a three-year conversion period to biological farming and must observe the standards defined by the certifying organization Demeter.
The strength of the message of the biological and biodynamic principles is justified by an increasing number of vine producers and wine makers. It is a fact that there is no country on the global wine map that does not have at least a couple of ”dissidents” whereas the leading positions are held by Spain, France, Italy, USA, Germany and Austria. The legitimacy of the principles is further enhanced by the brands that practice biological or biodynamic wine production. The advocates of the bio philosophy are pioneers of the rank of Miguel Torres, Barone Ricasoli, Grgich, Bonterra and Famille Perrin, whereas the leaders in the battle for biodynamics are Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Henschke, Domaine Zind Humbrecht, М. Chapoutier and many others
Bulgaria also takes part in these processes – we too have certified producers of biological wines although we cannot say that their number has increased significantly in the recent years or that being under 10 they constitute a significant part of the total of 200 registered wineries. We can only hope that the organic market and the conservative Bulgarian taste will not hinder the innovative thinking and the growth of the organic and biodynamic wineries
PhD Wine Marketing, WSET Advanced Certificate