In organic viticulture the use of chemicals is strictly controlled by law to the point where almost all the chemicals available to conventional growers are prohibited. Organic growers concentrate on growing healthy vines that are able to withstand pests, disease, fungus, rots and anything else they may encounter in the field while being able to sustain themselves with a robust root system. Conventional growers rely more on chemical solutions for prevention and problem resolution. A balanced ecosystem and healthy soil in the vineyard are essential for organic farming to succeed.
Biodynamic viticulture takes the idea of growing grapes without the aid of chemical applications a step further. Biodynamic farming looks at a vineyard as an ecosystem unto itself with a system of checks and balances that maintains the system’s equilibrium and prevents any major disruptive events (diseases, insect infestation, animal intrusion, etc.) from affecting the health of the system. Biodynamic farmers incorporate lunar cycles and astrological influences into their decisions. In the U.S.A. wine labeled “organic” is regulated by law. These wines must be made from grapes that are certified to have been organically grown and made without any sulfites added to them. Wine can be made from “certified organically grown grapes” and have sulfites added to them but the label can’t claim it as “organic wine” but as wine “made from organic grapes”. The difference in wording is subtle but there is a difference in how the wine is produced. Biodynamic wines are also produced from grapes grown in chemical-free biodynamic vineyards but the winemaker is limited to making wine without using any common manipulations, such as adjusting it’s acidity or adding yeasts. As with organic grapes you can find wine made from “biodynamically grown grapes” that have been made using different wine making manipulations but as with the “organically grown grapes” the label will read wine made from “biodynamically grown grapes” but not biodynamic wine. The U.S. Government does not certify biodynamic wine. Biodynamic wine is certified by the independent Demeter Association. Biodynamic and Demeter are trademarks used to assure consumers that the product has been certified to a uniform standard.
I have had conversations with wine makers and vineyard owners from the Eastern United States that have seen just about everything that can happen in a vineyard first hand. The one point they were all emphatic about was that although it is possible to grow organic and biodynamic vineyards here it is very difficult. Any grower wanting to pursue this method of viticulture must first be able to withstand the possibility that their harvest may be dramatically reduced in some years and non-existent in others because of factors they won’t be able to control with the tools they allowed to use.
The topic of organic vs. conventional farming has been debated with valid points being made and supported on both sides of the discussion. The one thing that everyone agrees on is that any practice that leads to better wine is always welcome. At the end of the day wine making is a business and like any other business you must be profitable to stay in business. It requires a business plan that is flexible and incorporates a vision that can be transformed into a financially viable enterprise in the real world.
2 thoughts on “Sign of the Times”
We spend a lot of time in Abruzzo and they seem to produce a lot of good organic wine. Is the pest issue worse in the US?
Thanks for the comment! While pests can be a problem the vintners I have talked with say that controlling mildews, fungus, rots and diseases is the real challenge of growing grapes in the Northeastern U.S. The record rainfall last year made it even more difficult. Check out my previous post “Harvest Report 2018” to get a real feel for what it takes to grow a vineyard in Pennsylvania and New York.