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Is “Organic” the Future of Winemaking?

In the first of a three-part series, we reveal the real story about sustainable, organic and biodynamic wine. Is it all it’s cracked up to be?

The wine world is ever-evolving—a seemingly endless flow of new expressions, brands, styles, regions and winemakers—so for the casual oenophile, it’s often hard to determine which trends are worth taking seriously. Here’s an example: If you think that rosé should be strictly reserved for summer… think again. As it turns out, experts say it’s perfectly acceptable to consume year-round.

In a new three-part series, we asked six industry experts—from sommeliers to winemakers—to weigh in on the trends we’ve been hearing about lately. One of the most talked about topics of late is the movement toward natural farming. Which poses the question: 

“Will ‘sustainable,’ ‘organic’ and ‘biodynamic’ be the future of winemaking?”

A quick primer for those unfamiliar:

Sustainable = It’s loosely defined and unregulated, but generally, sustainable practices are socially responsible and eco-friendly (i.e. using solar power, and limiting the use of synthetic materials).
Organic = No artificial chemical fertilizers or pesticides are used.
Biodynamic = Similar to organic, biodynamic farming prohibits artificial chemicals—but goes beyond that, by introducing a “spiritual” relationship between the soil, grapes and earth as a whole (for example, the harvest is often timed to the phases of the sun and moon).

Here, our wine industry experts offer six opinions on the matter.

Wine drinkers are still skeptical about “organic” wines.

According to Greg Scheinfeld, co-owner and winemaker of Napa Valley-based Uproot Wines, “You see ‘sustainably farmed, organic and free trade’ all over the packaging when it comes to food and drinks, but for some reason alcohol is lagging in that department. Growing sustainably is very important for the future and will continue to be a focus in the wine world. As for biodynamic and organic wines, it’s a great marketing tool, but I think those are still niche markets. I think there’s a stigma about organic wines not being up to the same quality of wines that are not organic.”

…but sommeliers are open-minded to the trend.

“From a Sommelier standpoint, I hear the words ‘organic, biodynamic, and sustainable’ from winemakers and distributors more often now, and admittedly, they do resonate in a positive way—it’s responsible to support those that have a direct beneficial impact on our land and ecological health,” says Victoria Kulinich, sommelier at The Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena, California.

Using chemicals is significantly cheaper than natural methods.

“Many vineyards are regularly treated with chemicals because it’s about half the cost of naturally farming the vines. I believe the wave of the future is removing as many chemicals as possible from our vineyards, and food supply as a whole, so less of these harmful chemicals end up in our bodies,” says Ian Cauble, master sommelier and co-founder of SommSelect, a curated wine e-tailer.

…but sustainable, biodynamic, organic wines aren’t necessarily more expensive.

Says Mike Benziger, founder and winemaker at Benziger Family Winery, “People, especially millennials, are becoming increasingly concerned with what they’re putting in their bodies. As climate changes and its effects on the environment are more evident every day, this movement is becoming more important. If you can buy wines, like Benziger, that are certified sustainable, organic or Biodynamic, you get better quality without having to pay more—it’s becoming an easy decision.”  

Major wine regions are shifting toward widespread sustainability.

According to Clay Fritz, proprietor of Fritz Cellars, “In Dry Creek Valley and the larger Sonoma County, sustainability is a big trend we’re seeing. Sonoma County has pledged to be the nation’s first 100% sustainable wine region within the next five years.” The same goes for New Zealand, which is currently over 90% sustainable, says Cameron Douglas, master sommelier and wine consultant at The Musket Room in New York City.

Organic, biodynamic wines offer brighter acidity and added depth.

Douglas explains, “Organic wine producing practices is a welcome trend—the wine is simply better, the flavors more focused, the acidity brighter and the complexity deeper. I love the way bio-dynamic wines dance more on your palate, and how they better show the pristine acidity and added depth and length.”

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