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Organic or Biodynamic?

There are several paths a grower can take to maintain vineyard health and lessen their impact on the environment. The most common certifications are listed below.

Organic viticulture aims to work with natural systems, instead of overpowering them. A central goal is to build soil fertility using green manure and organic residues. Animal and plant habitats are maintained to encourage biological diversity. Chemical fertilizers are not allowed, and replaced with compost and manure. Chemical herbicides are replaced with extra mowing between the rows. These green practices greatly increase the cost and effort to grow grapes, but the resulting wine will be high quality and expressive of its origin.

Biodynamic viticulture follows organic rules, but with the addition of a few mandated procedures. The goal is to produce vines that are in harmony with the universe. The official book on biodynamics by Rudolph Steiner came out in the 1920's, but there is evidence of using this system dating back to the 17th century. Biodynamics follows the philosophy that all parts of the ecosystem are interconnected, and that certain phases of the moon, sun and planets favor different parts of the plant. For example, this would mean harvesting can only occur during "leaf" days, when the moon is waning.

In addition, biodynamic compost must be made from 6 ingredients: oak bark, stinging nettles, chamomile, yarrow, dandelion and valerian. Cow horns are stuffed with manure, and buried over winter solstice to create fertilizer, while cow horns are stuffed with quartz and buried over summer solstice for to stimulate photosynthesis. Weeds and pests are warded off by spraying the burnt ashes of seeds or animal remains. Biodynamic certification can only be done by Demeter International.

Sustainable Viticulture is another philosophy with the same goals as organic viticulture, but is not so against man made chemicals. Some minor chemicals can be used. Sustainability is more geared toward the long term future of the environment, addressing water usage, greenhouse gases and farm waste. Adding solar panels, or making less passes in the vineyard with a tractor would be examples moving toward being sustainable.

Natural Viticulture is a newer term used in conjunction with organic, and a term used in Old World Europe. It requires the planting of only indigenous varieties in vineyards to preserve the history of the area and wine. It can also be thought of as "low intervention" or "raw" wine made from traditional grapes. Vineyards must be low yield, and with no fertilization except for shredding of herbs and some manure. In the cellar, fermentation and aging are carried out only with indigenous yeasts already present on the grapes. There can be no additives (acid, oak chips or powder, sugar, acid) that are used in conventional wines. Sulfur is not used, except for just before bottling, when a very minimal amount is added.


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