Last semester I took a wine course at the university, and throughout that time we had several speakers introduced to the class, and one was Brian Hamilton of Southbrook Vineyards from Niagara-on-the-lake. He spoke about biodynamic and organic practices at their vineyard, which led me to my interest in researching this topic a bit further.
With the increasing popularity of organic products, the wine industry is starting to embrace environmental consciousness of being organic or biodynamic. Some large names in Ontario, such as Southbrook Vineyards and Tawse Winery are leading the way for a sustainable wine industry through biodynamic and organic processes. In order to be a biodynamic or an organic winery, it takes much more than just avoiding the use of pesticides and fertilizers.
What are organic wines?
Vineyards that have organic agricultural practices in place will often go much further than just the sustainability of their grapes. They generally have a vested interest in the health of the soil, as well as animal and human health. Organic winemaking techniques exclude the use of any synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. Instead, many organic winegrowing processes will focus on the fertilization of crops through means of compost, manure, and creating compost teas. Many viticulturists will avoid herbicides through the dependence on mechanical weeding techniques, or precise maintenance of the ground surrounding the vines. Like many other organic food products, they cannot be genetically modified, and certified organic wines will not have any added sulphites. It is essential that certified organic grapes be used in the winemaking process in order for the vineyard to be able to place the term ‘organic’ on their labels. Many wineries that are certified organic will also have environmentally conscious bottling practices, such as using vegetable ink on their wine labels.
What are biodynamic wines?
Biodynamic and organic wines share many similarities, but biodynamic practices take the whole vineyard and winemaking experience one step further. Southbrook Vineyards, a leader in biodynamic and organic wines in Ontario simply puts that biodynamic wines “emphasizes the balance and interrelationship of a farm’s soil, plants and animals to grow low-impact, vibrant crops, including grapes.” It strictly prohibits any use or additions to the wine such as aromatic yeasts, bacteria, enzymes, acid adjustment, or sugar adjustment. This type of viticulture practice emphasizes the balance with nature, and views the entire vineyard as one interrelated system. Many vineyards will go further than just having grapes on their plot of land. Some will have sheep grazing through grass, or chickens that roam at the bottoms of the vine to eat any insects, which is a natural form of controlling any pests. It is also common practice for biodynamic viticulturists to create compost to be used on the vineyard, as well as aligning winemaking practices to the moon, planets, and stars energy. The creation of compost is essential to biodynamic practices in order to protect the soil from erosion, as well as to keep a balanced level of humus to retain nutrients for the crops. The spin-off effect of having a rich, well-balanced soil reflects quality in the wine, as well as in the earth.
Who ensures that standards are maintained?
In order to be a classified as a biodynamic vineyard, it is essential to be certified through a recognized association. Demeter is the international governing body that implements and manages biodynamic agriculture practices. Vineyards such as Southbrook Vineyards, who is Canada’s first winery to be Demeter certified, must follow very strict guidelines and procedures that are set out, which are inspected on an annual basis. Demeter’s Biodynamic Processing Standards ensures that there is an “unbroken chain of accountability from the farm (vineyard) to the finished product.” Demeter’s international website has a biodynamic wine FAQ, which addresses many finite details of the certification process, or recommendations by Demeter to become certified. http://www.demeter.de/node/4175
Similar to biodynamic practices, there are strict regulations within the vineyard that need to be monitored. Pro-Cert Organic Systems is a leading certifier for organic practices within the agricultural sector, including viticulture. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recognizes Pro-Cert Organic Systems as a certifier of organic products. Vineyards that are certified as Pro-Cert Organic will have regular annual inspections done, as well as unscheduled inspections or audits to ensure consistency and compliance with standards and regulations.
To view more information on Southbrook Vineyard’s Green Story on becoming biodynamic, follow this link: http://www.southbrook.com/our_green_story
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– Julie Moroz