Book Review: Biodynamic, Organic and Natural Winemaking

Biodynamic, organic, and Natural Winemaking: Sustainable Viticulture and Viniculture by Britt and Per Karlsson

Biodynamic, Organic, and Natural Winemaking: Sustainable Viticulture and Viniculture by Britt and Per Karlsson

Do you remember reading your science books in school?  How dry the material could be and uninteresting?  Well sometimes, reading a book about the science and legislation about some topic in the world can be interesting.  Case in point, is this book, “Biodynamic, organic and Natural Winemaking: Sustainable Viticulture and Viniculture” by Britt & Per Karlsson.  I received a complementary copy of this book to review and I really enjoyed reading it.

Coming in at slightly over 250 pages, this book giving you the background on biodynamic, organic and natural wine making and viticulture primarily in Europe but also in other regions around the world, is very informative and interesting to read.  The chapters vary from 2-3 pages up to 10 on average, giving you an easy bite sized chunk of information to read, absorb and think about.  The pages are nice and thick as well, giving the book a substantial feel when you flip through the pages.

Book Chapters

  1. Organic Wine-Growing – An Overview
  2. Farming Today
  3. History in Brief
  4. How Widespread Is Organic Wine-Growing?
  5. Who Goes Organic?
  6. Organic Wine-Growing
  7. Pests And Diseases
  8. Pest Control By Natural Means
  9. I Want To Go Organic – How Is It Done?
  10. Biodynamic Wine Production
  11. Private Labeling And Control
  12. The Work Inside The Cellar
  13. Additives
  14. Sustainable Wine-Growing
  15. Vins Nature – Natural Wines
  16. The Environmental Big Picture

Appendix 1: Recommended ‘natural wine’ producers
Appendix 2: A selection of favourite organic and biodynamic wine producers

The book does not try to try to convince you that organic or biodynamic or natural wine making is the best method of wine production.  They pass along the details about these methods, so that you can make your own informed decisions.

They provide many examples from the European experience, and EU regulations surrounding things like when a wine can be labelled “organic wine”.  February 2012 is when the EU reached agreement on the rules government the production of organic wine in the cellar.

You will learn about conventional, organic and biodynamic farming, and how farming has evolved over time before there was many of the fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals that are now so common.  Organic farming has always been around to some degree, but putting a label on it and surrounding it with rules is a more recent phenomenon.  The authors note that organic wine-growing picked up speed starting in the 1980s.

They do provide tables showing the extent of organic wine-growing worldwide, compared to conventional grape growing with data from 2012.  It is quite interesting.  I won’t give away the details here.  Which country do you think has the highest percent of acreage in organic wine-growing?

What does it mean according to EU rules to go organic?  The authors detail what things are prohibited, such as using artificial (synthetic) fertilizers, and what is permitted, such as organic fertilizers.  But what qualifies as an organic fertilizer?  Does vegetable compost count?  The authors take you through this maze.

How the soil is treated is also discussed.  The vines from root tips to the ends of the grape leaves are all important. Should you be allowing weeds to flourish or be cut down between the rows of vines?

There are also pests in the vineyard and mold and mildew.  How does an organic or biodynamic grape grower deal with this problems?  It is quite interesting to read how these things are managed in the vineyard.  There is always so much to learn, which leads to more appreciation for that bottle of organic wine, and the difference in price compared to wines coming from conventionally grown grapes.

Biodynamic wine production takes on a chapter of it’s own, as it is quite different from organic grape growing, and has many ideas related to the cycles of the moon, special soil preparations, the best time to plant, fertilizer or harvest the grapes and much more.  I could spend many pages discussing biodynamic wine making, as the authors of this book have done, but I can tell you that the bottles of wines produced by biodynamic farming I have noted tend to have more “energy” or vibrancy than wines in the same area produced with conventionally farmed grapes.  My first experience with a biodynamic wine was a red wine from Australia.  I don’t remember the name of the wine, but I do remember my pleasant reaction, and how it keeps repeating with other biodynamic wines I taste.

As with all things in life, everyone wants to make the rules for others to follow.  The same can be said for organic labelling.  There are organizations around the world that describe the rules the winery and/or grape grower must follow in order to receive their certification. IFOAM, FNIVAB, AIAB and many more certification bodies abound.  These and more associations are described, as well as some of their regulations.

What about the use of sulfur in wines?  Yes it is possible for wines to be called organic, and use some level of sulfur.  Sulfur is an antioxident, whichkeeps wines from oxidising prematurely.  White wines are more prone to oxidation than red BTW.  The EU in 2012 worked out a proposal for sulfur use in organic wines, and you can read about the levels that are allowed in the wines in the table on p. 150 of the book.

Besides sulfur, other “additives” are used in wine making, but may not be allowed for organic certification.  The book takes you through the use of things like Casein (a milk product), flash pasteurisation, egg whites, metatartaric acid, copper sulphate and more. Depending on the certifying body, some of these additives are permitted while for other organizations they are not.  Organic is not simple.  I really appreciate reading about these details in the book.

Haywire Free Form Natural & Unflitered 2013

Haywire Free Form Natural & Unflitered 2013. A natural wine from BC.

There is a short chapter on Natural Wines.  What they are and how they are made.  Natural wines are becoming more widely known, and wineries around the world, including in the Okanagan here in BC, are trying their hands at natural wine making.

Overall this is a very interesting book.  It discusses and describes organic, biodynamic, and natural wine making, and viticulture in terms that anyone, not just a wine producer can understand.  It has made me more informed about the differences in organic certifications, and what types of additives are, or are not, permitted in the vinification process.

I think that this would be a very nice Christmas/holiday gift to someone in your family that enjoys wine, and maybe some interest in organic, biodynamic, and natural wines.  Enjoy!

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