What’s with Organic, Biodynamic and Vegan Wines?

Italian winery Collefrisio in the Abruzzo region specialises in organic, vegan wines

You may have heard whispers of organic or biodynamic wines. Or perhaps your nephew only drinks vegan unfiltered wines? You may be wondering, “What’s going on?” All these terms that seem to have only appeared in the past few years.

Well, stress no more, we are here to educate and to influen… I mean, help you discover organic, biodynamic and vegan wines that will appeal to you and your tastes, making them easier to digest (both in your head and in a glass). You will also be the most informed guest at the in-laws’ annual dinner party and be able to tell them all about it.. Especially if you bring along one of our organic, biodynamic, vegan wines and they look at you like you’ve grown a spare head.

Let’s begin with organic wines. What’s all the fuss, eh?

Nearly half-a-million hectares worldwide are dedicated to farming organic wines, with Spain, France and Italy leading the market and currently accounting for 75% of organic vineyards. It’s a fast-growing market that is only getting more popular with new wine drinkers.

Simply put, organic wines are wines made from organically grown grapes. But what makes a grape organic, you ask? Organic grapes have had natural methods used for controlling insects, fungi and weeds. That means no herbicides, pesticides or chemical fertilisers are used. Only naturally occurring substances are introduced to the winemaking process, such as sulphur dioxide.

With organic wines, you can be guaranteed that no harmful synthetic chemicals have been applied to the land for at least three years prior to cultivation. Only non-toxic equipment and pest control methods are allowed, and there has been no exposure to prohibited materials during the bottling process.

For a vineyard to have organic certification, it has to be approved annually by the relevant national body. This annual inspection is to ensure that the vineyard is up to scratch on all organic protocols.

Biodynamic wines take organic farming a step further by completely farming with nature rather than using man-made products, and with absolute minimal interference.

The most impressive thing about biodynamic farming is that it really allows the vines and grapes to express themselves in their naturally occurring habitat with little intervention. It’s a method that previous generations of winemakers would have used, before the mass-consumption and mass-production of wine. It’s more of a holistic and homoeopathic take on viticulture that promotes care for the grapes pre-harvesting, so that less will have to be done or added post-harvesting. Think of it as viticulture‘s take on ‘Slow Living’.

The perspective that biodynamic farming takes is that the vineyard is a single, living organism. This means that the soil needs to be self-sufficient and have biodiversity to ensure the vines grow strong to produce good-quality grapes to fight diseases such as phylloxera.

Dung-filled cow horn are used in biodynamic wineries to maintain and improve soil quality

Dung-filled cow horn are used in biodynamic wineries to maintain and improve soil quality

One of the best known practices associated with biodynamic winemaking is the use of cow horns filled with cow dung. In order to promote soil biodiversity, the horns are filled with fresh manure from local pasture-fed cattle and are buried around the vines. This promotes soil retention, improves plant growth and encourages deeper roots. The cow horns are then dug up later in the season and the remaining manure in the horns is mixed with things like stinging nettle tea, valerian flower juice and horsetail plant. This mixture is sprayed on the plants in the same way that pesticides would be used, except without all the harmful toxic chemicals.

Vegan wines are a little different again.

While ‘organic’ and ‘biodynamic’ wines refer to the grape-producing part of the winemaking process, vegan wines have to do with the fining agents used at one particular point in winemaking.

Once a wine has been fermented, it isn’t a pleasant product. Picture a cloudy liquid that has a hint of decomposition on the nose. But somewhere in there is a beautifully juicy wine that is waiting to showcase itself as the awe-inspiring, pleasurable beverage it is. But before we get to it, we have to take away some of the naturally occurring remnants of the fermentation process.

Various fining agents and stabilisers can be added to wines to remove these substances, which are mostly pieces of grape cell, yeast and naturally occurring proteins that are known as colloids. Fining agents are used to prevent haze or cloudiness in the wine, remove some tannin to improve the balance of the wine and remove proteins.

These fining agents tend to be made up of proteins themselves, such as albumin from egg whites, gelatine from bones and hides, or isinglass from sturgeon. These are all animal by-products. It’s a small detail, but it makes a huge difference to the vegan consumer. So instead, vegan wine producers use a clay called bentonite or even charcoal to clarify their wines.

Hopefully, this piece will have cleared up some of your questions about organic, biodynamic and vegan wines and you can be the most knowledgeable at that dinner party this year.

Maybe you’re even curious and want to try some of these delicious wines? Especially for you, we have curated a special Curious Organic Case that contains some of the finest organic wines we have in stock: Curious Organic Mixed Case.

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