Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Bio? Dynamic! Part 2

In my previous post, I looked at what Biodynamic, organic, and natural wines are. Now that we’ve got definitions out of the way, let’s look at why we should be seeking out these wines. What makes these wines better? For me, there are three reasons: distinctive and better taste, they’re better for your health, and it’s better for the environment.

Grapes get a lot of their taste from the type of soil that the vine grows in. [Oops...this was an oversimplification. See my follow-up post.]  And soil composition can be very individualistic; varying significantly even from the soil in a neighbouring plot. Because the goal is to draw all their nutrients from the soil itself (rather than being fed any synthetic fertilizers), organic vines are more reflective of their specific place (what us wine fans call terroir). If the winemaker then takes a classic Old World approach to vinification, allowing the wine to express what the terroir contributes to the grape, then wines made from organic and Biodynamic grapes reflect a distinctive nose and palate. If like me, you tire of too many wines manipulated to taste the same, and you long for wines that are distinctive, that reflect from where they come, then start looking at organic and Biodynamic wines.

OK, distinctive, but is it better? Lots of blind tastings say, yes! One example. In 2004, Fortune magazine organized a blind tasting of 10 pairs of wines, where the grapes were grown near each other, from the same vintage, one Biodynamic and one conventional. The result? The tasters judged that the Biodynamic wine was better in 9 out of 10 cases: better aromas, flavours, and textures. Over the past 15 years, Biodynamics has become more popular among winemakers who care about making better wines. An accurate count can be hard to come by, but one source lists 529 winemakers in 16 countries using Biodynamic practices, including several high-profile vintners. And the list is growing. Although it’s possible that some growers are jumping onto the Biodynamic bandwagon as a marketing gimmick, many more have gone Biodynamic because their passion is to produce the best wine that they can.

Some critics doubt that Biodynamic practices themselves will produce better wines. Rather, they argue that Biodynamic practices are very painstaking and that’s why the wines are better: these Biodynamic winemakers simply put even more care and attention into growing the grapes and making the wine. Ah, but many wine drinkers don’t care why it works, just as long as we have more wines that are delicious!

Various research studies show that consuming wine in moderation yields health benefits, with one compound, occurring naturally in grape skins, singled out: resveratrol. Researchers link resveratrol to, among other things, improving cardiovascular health and endurance, fighting cancer cells, and slowing aging. For a grape, resveratrol acts as a natural fungus killer. But in vineyards where the vintner uses synthetic fungicides, the grapes produce significantly less resveratrol. Of course, this means that organic and Biodynamic grapes have higher levels of resveratrol. Want more of the benefits of resveratrol? Look for wines made from organic and Biodynamic grapes.

Environmental Responsibility
The debate continues on the toxic effect of pesticides on people, animals, and the environment. It’s clear, though, that organic and Biodynamic viticulture reduces synthetic pesticide, fungicide, and nutrient runoff, simply because growers shun such practices. So if you want to help reduce pesticide levels, support organic and Biodynamic wineries.

So, how do you find these wines? Ask at the store where you buy wine. If they don’t know about organic or Biodynamic wines, find another store. In Ontario, Vintages is doing a good job of identifying organic and Biodynamic wines in their catalogues, and their stores now have a separate (if too small) section for organic wines. Check the back label on the bottle. If a winery uses organic or Biodynamic practices, they’ll want you to know. Many wineries have a website and aren’t shy about telling you about how their grapes are grown and their wines are made. And you can always check back here. If I find one, I’ll let you know!

Organic and Biodynamic practices are no panacea. A winemaker is still at the mercy of the climate and can still mess up in the cellar. But whether you want wines that taste better and distinctive, or you want a greater health benefit from wine, or you want to support winemakers that are using more environmentally responsible practices, keep an eye out for these wines.


  1. Some people think soil has nothing to do with it.

    See this...


    The whole article is on Geology Today, but you need to be a subscriber to read it.

  2. Interesting link, Liam. This would certainly turn "conventional thinking" on its ear. The geologist-researcher seems to be saying that more research (and funding) is necessary!