The New Traditional: Organic and Biodynamic Wines

These days, out on the borders, some people like to build walls. It’s all part of a trending push to adopt a more conservative, inward-looking stance, and it’s often self-serving in nature. You might think that this has little to do with your bottle of wine, but you’d be wrong. There are individuals out there who are bucking the status quo and questioning the sometimes rigid behaviours associated with today’s wine production. As with other human endeavours, this doesn’t always go down well.

This is particularly true in some of the European countries, where appellation, and its protection, can, in some minds, be everything. Hence, some very good wines there that travel a less frequented path (biodynamic wines, natural or unfined wines, for instance) can cop a wall’s worth of rejection as they are ‘cast into exile’ by those policing the regulations. The result? These wines are unable to state their provenance as they fall outside strict guidelines around what constitutes an appellation. But they do it anyway.

The irony is, of course, that in many instances, these hardy souls are in fact turning back towards older, now discarded traditions and questioning the original reasoning behind their abandonment. Or, sometimes, they are just heading off Stage Left to see what’s over there. While logic dictates that this can only be healthy, it is also perceived as threatening in some quarters. The line between craftsmanship and creativity can be a hazy one, expecially when it comes down to definitions.

However, many of us are excited about what’s happening out around the edges. After all, for things to flower and progress, experimentation and rejuvenation is what it’s all about. And so, this issue casts a light on those viticulturalists and winemakers shedding some of the more insidious aspects of the wine industry as it corporatizes itself, as they go in search of greener, more meaningful ways of doing things. These wines and their creators are forging new paths, often into old, forsaken territories, and we should be encouraged by their energy, their initiative and their sheer audacity, to cheer them on.

Organic Wines

Organic grape cultivation eschews the use of synthetic fungicides, herbicides, fertilizers and other artificial processes. The wines themselves are regulated through legislation that can vary from country to country. One of these certification challenges is derived from the USA, where wine and food are conflated under organic regulations. There, in order to protect various food products, the term ‘organic wine’ can’t be applied because of the sulphur present, resulting in the designation ‘made from organic grapes’. We encounter that in NZ when the producer labels both their domestic and exported product with the one label.

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Biodynamic Wines

Biodynamic winemaking and viticulture draws its philosophy from the premise of Austrian philosopher, Rudolph Steiner, that the Earth (and thus the vineyard itself) is a living organism. In order to keep everything in balance, the rationale is that vinicultural practices need to be timed to coincide with the rhythms of the earth, a philosophy embracing the whole ecosystem, that requires environment, plants, animals and people to be in complete harmony. As with organics, there is a certification system, but it’s a global standard, known as Demeter and named for the Greek goddess of grain and fertility.

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Read more from our March Wineletter here