Regenerative, Organic, Biodynamic and other such “Natural” things in winemaking
Regenerative farming is a practice that is becoming more popular in vineyards and winery properties. Before you can be “regenerative” you must first be “Certified Organic”. Produce can be called organic if it is certified to have grown on soil that had no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest, by a third party inspector. USDA certified foods are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and additives. Organic producers rely on natural substances, physical, mechanical and biological based farming methods. Traditionally European winemakers have been following the guidelines of their ancestors for centuries; making wines with very little intervention, including that of fertilizers, pesticides and other additives. However, most of these wineries have not gone so far as to pay their government to come in and inspect them and make sure they are following the guidelines (though that movement is changing as public demand calls for such labeling). Therefore they are not considered certified, they are simply using organic practices.
Before wine can be sold (and labeled) as organic, both the growing of the grapes and their conversion to wine must be certified. All the grapes must be grown without synthetic fertilizers, fungicides and herbicides, and in a manner that protects the environment and soil.
The legal definition of “organic wine” does vary from country to country, with the main difference being the use of preservatives such as sulfur dioxide, or SO2, sulfites during the winemaking process, and certain yeast strains. In the US if a wine is labeled “made with certified organic grapes” it can still contain up to 100 ppm of sulfites or use nonnative yeast. Traditional wine can use anywhere from 250 to 400 parts per million of sulfites. The use of added sulfites is a hot debate within the organic winemaking community. Organic certification also does not guarantee the use of renewable energy, responsible water use, or environmentally sustainable packaging.
Regenerative agriculture is a conservation and rehabilitation approach to the farming system, focusing on regenerating the topsoil, increasing bio diversity, and improving the water cycle. Wineries use composting and cover crops in an attempt to armor the earth, increasing soil health.
Sustainable agriculture is a practice defined by the US Code as an integrated system of practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long term, satisfy human food and fiber needs. Environmental conservation, reduced water consumption, and a self-supporting system of productivity and usefulness to maintain and improve soil fertility. You will often see SIP Certified (Sustainable In Practice) on a wine label.
While Natural wine and natural farm practices do not use any “approved” substances, neither chemical nor organic fertilizers are added to the soil, there is no official or regulated definition of “natural wine”. The natural movement in winemaking stems from a group of growers and farmers using simple, traditional methods (as our European forefathers mentioned earlier). Natural wines are often produced using no pesticides, herbicides, chemical additives and few to no, or only native sulfur and yeast.
Biodynamic farming principals as they pertain to winemaking, involve using a similar concept to above, however all components of the vineyard are considered one solid organism where the eco system of the farm functions as sustainable, using natural materials, soils and composts and no chemicals. Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner started the idea of biodynamics in the 1920’s- predating organics, based on the lunar calendar and astrological influences. There are root days, flower days, fruit days and leaf days, as well as the famous Cow Horn. It is believed that to bury a cow horn near the end of a vineyard site row will stimulate microbial soil, regulate PH, and dissolve minerals while stimulating seed germination.
All of these principles are unique yet still similar in their goal of maintaining and sustaining the vineyard land. Do any of them taste “different”. There is no straight answer. Natural wines will always taste slightly different than “regular wine” as most every day wine is made with genetically modified yeast strains whether it is used to correct the color, or balance a slightly off flavor. Sulfites are the number one preservative of wine, keeping fruit flavors fresh. Sulfites release sulfur dioxide gas, which is an active component in preservation of many foods, drinks and medications. Everything from baked goods to canned foods, dried fruits and soups and condiments carry trace amounts of sulfites. Winemakers are scientists and chemists before they are artists. The following wines are some of our favorites utilizing the above practices here at Ed’s.
Hedges CMS Sauvignon Blanc Columbia Valley, WA
Hedges Family is certified both Biodynamic and Organic with their famous Red Mountain AVA (American Viticultural Area) in Washington State. The CMS stands for Chardonnay, Marsanne and Sauvignon Blanc, and the blend, though mostly Sauvignon Blanc, offers aromas of grapefruit, lemon zest and baked apples, with bright citrus flavors and touch of herbaceousness. We give it two bones.
Lamura Grillo Sicilia DOCG
Completely organic with vineyards resting on the coast of Sicily in the Valley de Bellice, a hilly land where the air is filled with the scents of the Mediterranean Sea. These lovely white grapes are hand harvested and soft pressed before aging on the lees. Crisp refreshing citrus notes and hints of salinity, perfect with fresh seafood. We give it two bones.
Montinore Pinot Noir “Red Cap” Willamette Valley, OR
Montinore uses insect-promoting and nutrient infusing cover crops, and aligns with regenerative farming practices. Horn Manure 500 – where the cow horn is packed with cow manure and buried near the vineyards for 6 to 8 months, imparts a rich soil characteristic. This Pinot Noir expresses the beautiful terroir that is the Willamette Valley; red fruit, ripe currant, soft white pepper and a touch of leather. We give it three bones.
Benziger Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon
Mike and Mary Benziger have been farming on Sonoma Mountain for over 30 years. They introduced biodynamic and organic farming practices to their land in the mid 1990’s. All of Benziger’s production facilities are certified sustainable and organic with the CSWA – California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. This Cab shows charred oak aromas and flavors with black fruit notes and spicy peppercorn. We give it three bones.
Castoro Reserve Petite Sirah Paso Robles, CA
This wine is from CCOF – Certified Organic Blind Faith Vineyard that is nestled on the east side of the Paso Robles AVA and the Estrella District Vineyards. Established in 1983 with the goal of producing world class wines, the winery production has grown from just a few barrels back then to over 40,000 cases today. 100% Petite Sirah, dry fermented to small American oak barrels, the wine shows big bold fruit, but balance with firm tannins and hints of blackberry, pepper and black tea. We give it two bones.
Breaking Bread Zinfandel by Kokomo CA
Old Heritage vines that have been in the ground for over a hundred years, are dry farmed to express the essence of American Zinfandel, using Carbonic Maceration, whole cluster fermentation and no chemical yeasts or additives. The winery is committed to the Natural Wine movement. This Dry Creek Valley Zin is lower in alcohol, well balanced and fruit forward. Fig and plum, blackberry and a touch of spice. Enjoy slightly chilled, we give it two bones.
Winemaking is at the total discretion of the winemaker and their team, it is subjective and there are thousands of choices for the connoisseur. Come see us or give us a call or order on line and we can help you select.
By Carolyn R Brow