The Wine Palate
More and more these days we see the term "organic" on our products.
Organic has become such a catch phrase in the last few years that even Wal-Mart is beginning to sell organic products.
According to the dictionary, organic is the term used for a product that is grown or reared without the use of synthetic chemicals. This is a rather vague guideline when concerning wine. After the grapes are grown there are still many steps to go before you actually end up with wine and more often than not, synthetic chemicals are used in the wine-making process.
The most commonly used synthetic chemical is sulfur dioxide. Sulfur dioxide is known as the "hangover chemical" and is the reason that your wine bottles say "contains sulfites." It is a preservative that is not only used in your wine, but is used in most of the food that you eat on a daily basis. The organic wine certifications regulate that one can only use 2/3 the amount of sulfur dioxide than is conventionally used in wine production.
There are very few houses in the world that use no sulfur at all. Basically, this means that our perception of organic may not be as accurate as we would like to think. You may notice different certified organic labels. One may say, "Made from Organically grown grapes", while another may say, "organic wine." The different minutia in label language brings us to the term biodynamic.
Biodynamics is the study of how energy, motion, and other forces affect living things.
The Austrian scholar, architect, playwright, educator, and philosopher Rudolph Steiner developed the theories involving biodynamics and presented them to European farmers whose crops were suffering as a result of the deteriorating effects of "scientific farming." Steiner’s death in 1925, 66 farms were using methods he outlined concerning spray and compost preparation and experienced great success with it.
For a farm or vineyard to be certified biodynamic today it must fall under a few guidelines. First it must be certified organic. Second, it must pass the regulations of the private organization called "Demeter International." Whereas an organic certification regulates which chemicals and fertilizers are not allowed, the biodynamic certification outlines specifically which ones you are allowed to use.
For example, the compost used must be made from organic materials and the fertilizers must only be from animals that are raised organically. If a winemaker filters your wine with egg whites, which is the most common filtering process, he/she must only use the egg whites from organically raised chickens.
One of the most interesting guidelines in biodynamic farming is the observation of lunar cycles to guide farming and harvesting.
Organic and biodynamic production of wine creates more sustainable vineyard sites and a healthier product. Moreover, it brings the winemaker closer to the land and the forces that affect it, which in turn, should theoretically bring you a wine that better represents the terroir from which it hails.
Keep in mind, like anything else, that there are both great and awful producers of organic and biodynamic wines out there, so don’t be fooled by a label or certification. After all, what’s the point of being certified organic if your wine doesn’t taste good. Here are a few that I recommend:
*Ceago produces a large line of fine biodynamic wines at a reasonable price. I quite like the chardonnay at $15.95.
*The Masut Pinot Noir of the Redwood Valley is one of the finest produced in California and is produced biodynamically.
*Domain Leroy is one of the top biodynamic producers and their Romanee St. Vivant *Grand Cru is one of the finest expressions of pinot noir there is. It is $169 for the ’03 vintange.
*Domaine de la Romanee Conti’s Romanee-Conti may be the finest wine in the world and is moving toward a fully biodynamic production. The ’03 vintage is $789, ouch.
Zev Rovine is the sommelier and resident cheese monger at the Spotted Frog Bookstore Cafe and Wine Bar where he teaches weekly wine classes. His wine education comes from the American Sommelier Association in N.Y.C. and he tries his very best not to spill the Pinot on the bestseller section. If you have any wine queries or comments he is easily contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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