When it comes to wines, it’s not a matter of red or white any more. For committed oenophiles, the million-dollar question is: organic or biodynamic?
While wine is a product of two processes – the growing (planting, cultivating and harvesting) and the making (crushing, fermenting, processing and bottling) – the terms “organic” and “biodynamic” simply refer to the agricultural practices followed.
Unlike conventional varieties, organic wines are produced to stringent farming standards – shunning synthetic fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides, and using only non-GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) seeds.
Biodynamic wine producers, on the other hand, go a step further: they see the vineyard as an independent, sustainable ecosystem. To encourage all living organisms to flourish within the vineyard, for example, vintners do everything from making their own compost to planting vines according to the lunar calendar.
Nevertheless, both organic and biodynamic wine producers share similar views on reducing environmental impact, with a focus on eco-friendly methods for improving soil fertility and vitality.
When it comes to the labels on the bottles, however, the two differ.
The term “organic” is regulated by certification bodies that are accredited by government agencies. Products that are organic-certified meet specific requirements and bear a unique seal on the packaging. So if a label states that the wine is “made with organic grapes” but does not carry the seal, it is not necessarily 100 per cent organic.
On the other hand, biodynamic wines need to be certified by one of the 19 Demeter Associations, which are part of Demeter International, a not-for-profit organisation that sets agricultural standards and eligibility criteria.
Some wine lovers believe biodynamic wines are worth the hefty price tag because only the greenest agricultural practices were used to produce the highest quality of grapes that are chemical-, pesticide- and herbicide-free. However, keep in mind that the “origin” also matters: depending on factors such as climate, soil quality and presence of pests, some places are more suited for biodynamic farming than others.
According to research published in February 2017 in the International Journal of Wine Research, the cost of producing biodynamic wine is 50 per cent higher than that of conventional wine because it is more labour intensive, and produces lower yield per acre. Growing organic grapes costs 10 to 15 per cent more than the regular varieties, while biodynamic grapes top the chart, costing an additional 10 to 15 more than organic grapes.
This means that the final price tags on bottles of organic and biodynamic wines are bigger – you’ll be hard-pressed to find one of these wines on the cheap shelves – but they are not outrageously expensive either.
Note, though, that whether organic and biodynamic wines are nutritionally superior remains a point of debate.