As if wine labels aren’t confusing enough, additions of words like organic, wild ferment, natural and biodynamic have been gaining popularity. But what do they all mean and why should you care? Just like the food conscious movement has been popularized in our society, these words will give you a better idea of what goes into the bottle (or so you would think). Here is what you need to know about these catch phrases and winemaking trends.
This is probably the easiest concept to explain because it’s not new to us- we have seen the organic food movement popularize over the last decade. People are more conscious of what is in their food; they want produce free from pesticides and meat free from antibiotics. The same is true for vines. The grapes grow in similar conditions that produce is classified as organic would.
Where wine differs from produce is when the wine making process occurs- there are currently no organic preservatives that can be added to wine to make it last in a bottle and age- therefore, more often then not, the grapes are organic and the wine isn’t. And, if it is classified as organic wine, then it probably would need to be consumed within a few months of being made. Organic wine certification also varies from country to country.
This is a very loose term, as it is currently not regulated at all. The concept is basically using naturally occurring yeast (native to the area the vines are grown) and little to no sulphur dioxide to preserve the wine. This, like the organic wine making process, means wine cannot be aged or last very long in the bottle.
Perhaps the most interesting of all the terms I have described in this blog. Biodynamic farming uses organic growing methods combined with a very holistic approach to farming- having animals and producing an ecosystem that is sustainable (including other plants and other animals on the vineyard). One of the practices includes filling cow horns with manure and other natural nutrients and burying them in various locations in the vineyard (see photo). These are used for all sorts of reasons including warding off pests and increasing the viability of the soil. This winemaking process also uses astrological calendars to determine ideal planting, and picking conditions. If you want to geek out about Biodynamic wine making, email me and I can send you a few links!
This means the winemaker uses the naturally occurring yeast found in the vineyard to create the wine. Sometimes they do not stop the fermentation process, they let it run its course.
I bet you are thinking: if yeast naturally exists on the grapes, why don’t all winemakers just use that yeast? Why bother using a different one? Up until recently (in historic terms) this was the common practice in winemaking; it wasn’t something that was put on the bottle because it was normal practice. But as the winemaking process became more sophisticated and consumer demand was the same taste in a label year after year (this is next to impossible without some manipulation) winemakers started using specific yeast strains that resulted in specific flavours in their wine, creating consistency.
Think of bread making: bakeries have the same yeast strain they have been using year after year to get that specific taste and feel to their bread, they feed that yeast and keep it alive for years and years, it creates consistency and a quality product.
Wild fermentation will be different every year, depending on the environmental conditions in the vineyard; it can be risky, but also extremely rewarding.
So what does this all mean?
I give kudos to any wine maker who practices these methods in their vineyards- it adds difficulty and unpredictability in the vineyard that can pose difficulties and hurtles to overcome. I also think it’s important to be conscious of where our food and wine comes from, and whether it is sustainable. It is the only way we are going to maintain any semblance of the earth we currently live on (Okay, I won't rant too much about the environment).
When it comes to organic, natural, wild ferment, try a bottle, expect to pay more, but know that a lot more sweat and tears went into making that wine than the bottle you got for $9.95 from a mass produced brand. Embrace the differences in the taste, smell and look of the wine. And, feel special, knowing that you will probably never have that exact same wine again in your life!
Whatever you do, don’t save your organic wine in your cellar for any prolonged period of time, because chances are, it won’t last long! So drink up.
Want to learn more about organic, natural and biodynamic wine? Why not host your own wine event and sip and savour the differences with the company of your choice!
Email me, Danielle@newagenonnawineandfood.com or Follow me on Instagram @NewAgeNonna .