By Tom Hollings
Tom is the owner of innovative online wine store, DifferentDrop.com, which sources and sells unique and small production wines from Australia’s best boutique wineries.
Organic, biodynamic and natural wines are rapidly growing in popularity in Australia, and are changing the way local producers and consumers think about the wine they make and drink.
All three approaches have a similar goal – to create healthy and sustainable fruit and wines that have had had minimal interference in the winery and truly represent the climate and soil, aka ‘terroir’, in which they were grown.
What are the differences? Here’s the quick run down on each philosophy.
Put simply, organic wines are those made from grapes that have not been exposed to synthetic chemicals. This includes fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides. In Australia it also means that allowed levels of added preservatives (sulphur) are capped at 50% their normal rate.
Preservatives prevent wine from being spoiled by bacteria, yeasts and oxygen, and in doing so make the wines more consistent and able to age. Acid, tannins and alcohol act as natural preservatives, and as such red wines don’t require as many sulphur based preservatives to be added in.
To claim your wines are organic you must receive official certification, which takes at least three years and is not an inexpensive process!
Like organic wines, biodynamic wines are all about how you treat the fruit and the vineyard. It really takes the idea of organic grapes to the next level, and essentially refers to treating the entire vineyard as a single eco-system.
The philosophy comes from an Austrian man named Rudolf Steiner who back in the 1920’s developed an approach to agriculture whereby all animals, plants and even the solar system are considered as being inter-related. Put simply, his teachings state that if you create a supremely healthy and sustainable environment, plants (including grape vines) will grow at their optimum.
Many Australian wineries are now implementing biodynamic principles, including the burying of manure filled cow horns under the vines and picking grapes based on lunar cycles. Australia’s most famous practitioner of biodynamics is Vanja Cullen in Margaret River, who claims that “Biodynamic grapes are a great expression of terroir and a sense of place”.
Then finally, we have natural wines. While organics and biodynamics are all about what happens in the vineyard, natural wines refers to what transpires in the winery.
Unlike the other two approaches natural wines don’t require any official certification, but are generally considered to contain no added acids or yeasts (must be all naturally occurring) and also less sulphur. The wines are regularly unfiltered and/or unclarified, and can thus appear cloudy.
Natural wines are a contentious issue and have many critics, many of whom suggest preservatives are a necessity for allowing wines to age and travel – an important consideration in Australia.
It is still far too early in the piece for us to make any bold claims about the overall quality and future of organic, biodynamic and natural wines.
What can’t be denied though is a growing interest amongst health conscious and sustainably minded consumers, and there is no doubt they are going to play a big part in our winemaking future.