I wanted to review this fantastic book, which I picked up at the library because I simply do not have a budget for extravagant spending on books. Lord knows I already have far too many.
This is an ideal book for those like myself, who know very little about the principles and practices behind organic, biodynamic, and natural winemaking. I wanted to understand in depth how the practices and processes differed from conventional winemaking, and just how widespread organic is globally. In New Zealand where I live, organic has become a bit of a buzzword, kind of like gluten-free but more meaningful. Organically grown grapes are in high demand these days.
This book answered questions I didn’t even know I had. It is structured in an easy to read way, with chapters ranging from the history of farming, to the emergence of organics, and how that has extended to winemaking. On that subject, the agricultural landscape in general has gone from polyculture, where farmers grew many items, to monoculture, with vineyards almost always having been monocultures, i.e. only one crop produced (grapes!!!!!)
It also answered the fundamental question, what actually is the difference between Organic, Biodynamic, and Sustainable? These labels are thrown around so much, and I didn’t know if I really knew what they meant or if it was all jargon with no concrete regulation. Organic is essentially gardening without chemical or artificial fertilisers, pesticides or fungicides. Organic winegrowers can become certified, and are expected to utilise natural fertilisers like compost and manure, take preventative measures of pest control, and be proactive in the vineyard to prevent disease. This is no easy feat, and requires eagle eyes (possibly actual eagles), and it is labour intensive. This is an important point, why is organic wine more expensive in some cases? Because it is labour intensive. The book provides good insight into this.
Organics also extends further, vineyards can have cover crops (which can promote mineral uptake through the roots), hedges (which house all sorts of little creatures that can be beneficial in helping with pest control and also serve as windbreaks), animals to help with weeding, and other steps to increase biodiversity. Biodiversity, or the circle of life, is explained with plenty of examples. Animals, insects, and bacteria are our friends.
And my favourite subject of all: Biodynamics. This was perhaps one of the most in depth explanations of biodynamics, the history and preparations. For those who always wondered, a biodynamic winegrower MUST be organic, but an organic winegrower isn’t necessarily biodynamic. Biodynamics (put forward by Rudolf Steiner), uses a unique planetary calendar to show which days appropriate vineyard tasks are to be undertaken, and also the winegrower makes preparations, of which there are 9 in total. S/he doesn’t have to make or us all of them, though. When I was a young one, I used to visit a biodynamic farm with my mother who has always been a huge fan of gardening, and we used to fill the cow horns with manure and bury them, and then bring them up 6 full moons later. I of course always refused to touch the manure, but it was a fun process to watch. And they provided lunch which was always yum.
Sustainable winemaking and winegrowing is something I believe all should aspire to. The ideology behind sustainable vineyards is that synthetic or chemical products should only be used when absolutely necessary. The sustainable winegrower also works at being proactive and taking preventative measures, but if the weather is being a bitch, let’s face it, you wouldn’t want to lose all your crop to an angry mother nature. This is a business, after all. I liked the way several producers stated that they knew how important it was to keep the land in good and healthy condition for the next generation, which is considerate.
A big topic up for discussion in one of the chapters was sulphur, which is used in the vineyard to an extent, but also during winemaking. The world hates sulphur because the world hates headaches (but that’s just misinformation), in fact, sulphur may be more devious than that. Why grow grapes organically, to only be non-organic in your winemaking practices? This is a topic that was delved into and heavily debated. (Excuse the cliffhanger, this will be elaborated on in another blog post.)
Dense subjects such as the paths to certification, certification bodies/agencies and actual lists of practices allowed per country (I know, can be dull if you don’t make wine yourself), are interspersed, so as not to bore those who just wanted to find out a little more. There are also lots of gorgeous colour pictures of international vineyards.
If you have any interest in organics, especially pertaining to wine, I don’t hesitate to recommend this book. It has made me more aware of what work has to happen in the vineyards to produce wines that are exceptional and truly reflect their terroir. As an aside, I admire winegrowers who work hard to restore the soil’s vitality and bring about biodiversity. Wine is a luxury, not an absolute necessity for life, and as such, I believe if we grow vines, we should nurture the soil so as not to deplete it.
Click on the following link to purchase Biodynamic, Organic and Natural Winemaking: Sustainable Viticulture and Viniculture on Amazon. I am not sponsored, but I have created an affiliate link. Or if you have no budget for books, look in your local library.
P.S. Does anyone have a favourite organic wine? Two of my favourites are Clos Henri’s wines and Seresin Estate’s Osip, both from Marlborough.