I love wine. However, as I navigate my middle years, most wine has taken an adverse dislike to me, with even moderate intakes (as in 2 medium-sized glasses ONLY) leaving me looking and feeling as if I haven't slept in two days (maybe that is part of the problem as we know that alcohol has an adverse affect on sleep and the older I grow the more essential restful sleep is to my wellbeing). Hence, my growing love affair with organic and biodynamic wines. They like me - a little anyway! What's more, many of them taste cleaner and better (to my palate anyway!) and are undoubtedly far, far better for the environment, so in all a winning triumvirate!
it seems others are catching on too as the sales in organic/biodynamic wines have rocketed over the last few years and according to the reputable LARVF (La Revue du Vin de France) there are 1,488 organic wine growers in France, with 10 to 15% of these following the precepts of biodynamics.
When South African-born Caro Feely arrived in France in 2005 less than one percent of wine was grown organically. Feely is an accredited wine educator, author and organic (biodynamic) winegrower. Along with her husband, Sean, they run Château Feely a biodynamic and organic wine estate about 15 minutes from Bergerac in South West France with accommodation, wine tours, vineyard walks and a certified Wine Spirit Education Trust school. Having just read her 'Glass Half Full' memoir of wine growing in France I asked Caro to help readers decipher what organic and biodynamic really means and here are her thoughts:
Grapes are one of the highest pesticide residue food products. A consumer watchdog magazine in France 'Que Choisir' regularly analyses pesticide levels in wines and in one of their largest samples (92 wines bought off the shelf) they found average pesticide residues about 300 times the level permitted in drinking water. Some of these systemic pesticides are so toxic that people are prohibited from entering the vineyard for 48 hours after spraying has taken place.
Organic wine is different and since 2012 organic winemaking rules guarantee lower sulphite levels and far fewer pesticides than those accepted in conventional wines. All wines with the European leaf logo (pictured) are guaranteed organic winemaking, not just organic farming (as in the vineyard). A purer wine is guaranteed.
The WHO (World Health Organisation) recommends a maximum sulphite level of 0.7mg per kg body weight, per day. Based on this, 45mg sulphites per day is the maximum for a woman weighing 65kg. With legislated EU maximum levels of 200mg sulphites/litre for conventional wine, an average person reaches their limit with less than a third of a bottle of white wine. Some countries have higher levels than the EU, with permitted limits of 250mg sulphites/L across most Australian wines and 350mg/L in the US (over double the EU for red wines). Just a single glass could therefore put you over the limit and the consequences of regular intake don't bear thinking about! With certified organic dry wine you can enjoy two glasses and stay well within the maximum sulphite levels.
The European organic leaf logo guarantees both organic farming practices and winemaking and rest assured that when it comes to organic rules are very strictly enforced. So much so that if a wine fails the winemaking regulations no mention can be made of it being organic, even if it has been farmed organically.
Biodynamic wine is a level beyond organic. Where organic means no chemical fertiliser and none of the systemic '-icide' inclusions, biodynamic goes a step beyond with a more holistic overall approach. A grower must be certified organic to go biodynamic.
Biodynamic is not yet covered by EU legislation so there are various bodies that offer certification with slightly different rules. Dementer is a globally recognised certifier (see logo) with strict and clear rules that are controlled annually. Biodyvin is another certifier in France with slightly more lenient rules than Demeter.
Quantifiably biodynamic is much stricter both on farming and winemaking. For example, when combatting fungal disease the copper dose is half that permitted under organic rules and only natural yeast can be used in the winemaking process with maximum sulphite limits even lower than those of organic wines:
- Dementer: 90 mg/L for white and rosé wines, and 70 mg/L for red wines
- Biodyvin: 105 mg /L for white and rosé wines and 80 mg /L for red wines
If a wine doesn't carry the EU organic logo it cannot be certified biodynamic. This said, biodynamic is not yet a legally certified term under EU law, so can be used without certification, and even without good faith. In other words, the adage caveat emptor still applies.
When choosing biodynamic wine, make sure it has the EU organic logo and also mentions biodynamic. There is plentiful supply of organic wine and biodynamic wines now so all suppliers and wine shops can get it on request, if not in stock.
To learn more Email: email@example.com; twitter/instagram @carofeely.
Feely's books 'Grape Expectations', 'Saving our Skins' and 'Glass Half Full' offer a personal perspective and human story on what it takes to follow your vineyard dreams.
May is Real Wine Month (think natural, organic, biodynamic and more) at Dublin's 64Wine. Further information on the website