Biodynamics, preservative free wine and organic toilet paper - a guide!

 A healthy vineyard in Austria - but is it organic?

A healthy vineyard in Austria - but is it organic?

Biodynamics, organic and Preservative Free wine - what is it?

If ever there was a sign that organic methods of production had become commonplace, then surely organic toilet paper is it. Flush organically!

Seriously though, there are now more organic - and biodynamic - wines on our shelves than ever, as producers choose to embrace a more 'sustainable' approach to grapegrowing and winemaking, largely in a quest to make better quality products.

But what exactly sets organic, biodynamic and 'preservative free' wines apart?

Whilst such a question may seem a little obvious, they're terms that are often confused (particularly around the use of preservatives) and definitely worth exploring.

Firstly, the main principal of both organic and biodynamic wine production is that only naturally occurring substances are used in the vineyard (and in the winery for that matter). That means no synthetic fertilisers, herbicides or pesticides (save for a little copper and sulphur), with organic vignerons instead embracing manual weeding; encouraging natural predators to fight off insects; and using alternative fertilisers like seaweed and worm teas.

Biodynamics (or BD for short) is a further form of organic wine production based on the principles of Rudolph Steiner, a noted theorist and philosopher who proposed (some say 'concocted') a system of farming based around the phases of the moon and the absolute interconnectivity of life. Biodynamics, in many ways, has some quirky mystical and cosmic techniques (like only stirring clockwise at certain times), but the core practical aspects are quite rational.

One of the central techniques to biodynamic wine production focuses on composting - to encourage more microbial life in the soil and enhance soil structure. Special 'preparation' solutions then added to this compost, which are then spread around the vines. All normal there. Conversely, one of the more unusual practices of BD involves burying a cow horn full of manure over winter to help make these preparations. Cow poo is a well loved part of biodynamics actually...

Importantly, wine that is organic or biodynamic is not necessarily preservative free, with the certification for both methods requiring wines only to be lower in preservatives, not completely free (except in the US where anything labelled 'organic' must also be preservative free. Indeed it is almost impossible for wines to be technically 'preservative free' as sulphur dioxide - preservative (220) - is often produced as a byproduct of wine fermentation. It should really be called 'no preservatives added' but that doesn't have the same ring to it (though some have tried.

Finally, preservative free wines are those that have had no preservatives added. Naturally, going preservative free requires extra care at all steps in the winemaking process, largely to prevent oxygen exposure. Aside from this challenge, preservative free wines are actually just like any other 'normal' wines, although their shelf life can be lessened.

But are the preservatives in your wine something to be avoided? We'll be covering that off next week...