Earth Day is a day that was designed to inspire awareness and appreciation for the Earth’s environment. It was founded by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin as an environmental teach-i in 1970. Senator Nelson chose the date in order to maximize participation on college campuses. He determined the week of April 19-25 was the best bet; it did not fall during exams or spring breaks, did not conflict with religious holidays such as Easter or Passover, and was late enough in spring to have decent weather. More students were likely to be in class, and there would be less competition with other mid-week events-so he chose Wednesday, April 22.
According to Senator Nelson, the moniker “Earth Day” was “an obvious and logical name” suggested by “a number of people” in the fall of 1969, including, a New York advertising executive,” Julian Koenig who was on Nelson’s organizing committee in 1969. April 22 also happened to be Koenig’s birthday, and as “Earth Day” rhymed with “birthday,” the idea came to him easily. When Nelson was asked whether he had purposely chosen Lenin’s 100th birthday, Nelson explained that with only 365 days a year and 3.7 billion people in the world, every day was the birthday of ten million living people. Additionally, a person many consider the world’s first environmentalist, Saint Francis of Assisi, was born on April 22.
To honor earth day, today we discuss the differences between and organic, sustainable, and biodynamic practices as they pertain to wine and hopefully, help to reduce some of the confusion concerning these terms.
About Organic Vineyards
These vineyards are managed without the use of systemic fungicides (fungus control), insecticides (bug control), herbicides (weed control) or synthetic fertilizers. Vineyard sprays are still used, but the products are different. Metal salts (. sulfur and copper) tend to be used for fungus control. Biological agents can be used for insect control; such as. bacteria, parasitic wasps, or pheromone/food traps. Weeds tend to be controlled via mechanical methods, such as plowing, hoeing, mulching or mowing. Vines can be fertilized via compost mulches, green manures or animal manures.
About Biodynamic Vineyards
Biodynamic viticulture stems from the ideas and suggestions of Rudolf Steiner, whose Agriculture course in 1924 spun off much of the organic movement. It utilizes a holistic approach to farming and views the vineyard as an interrelated unit placing emphasis on the balance between the soil, vines and animals in a close self-nourishing system. This philosophy places high importance on composts and manures without the use of chemical fertilizers. It does use a number of fermented herbal and mineral preparations for compost additives and sprays. The practice also utilizes the astronomical calendar for sowing and planting. Biodynamic wines may be organic or preservative-free. Many famous wineries and vineyards profess to use these techniques.
About Sustainable Vineyards
Sustainable vineyards are a combination of organic and biodynamic vineyards. Thes vineyards strive to maintain the long-term health of the land instead of depleting it for short-term gain.
About Organic Wine
I’m often asked for organic wine or wine that contains “no sulfites”. Unfortunately for consumers, much of the information available on organic wine is contradictory, especially when conversation turns to the topic of sulfites in organic winemaking.
The official definition differs depending on country of origin but basically it is wine that has been made from “organic grapes” and contains less than 100-120 mg/L of total sulphur dioxide. Sulfur is produced both naturally during fermentation and added to enhance microbiological/oxidative stability. Some “natural” products, such as milk, egg whites or bentonite clays, can also be used to help clarification, filtration and stability.
The USDA’s definition sounds deceivingly simple: “an organic wine is made from organically grown grapes to which no sulfur dioxide has been added.” However, since Greco-Roman times, sulfur dioxide has been used as an additive in the winemaking process for its anti-bacterial and anti-oxidant properties. While sulfites are naturally present at low levels during the winemaking process—as a by-product of the fermenting yeasts present on all grape skins—the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) guidelines state that even a wine made with 99.99% organic ingredients cannot be labeled “organic” unless no sulfur dioxide has been added to it.
As sulfites are naturally occurring, a “no sulfite” or “sulfite-free” wine simply cannot exist. For this reason, even a wine made organically is only a low-sulfite wine and not sulfite-free.
Organic wine may or may not be made from organic grapes. Organic wines are made without any external addition of sulfur (although some is always present due to fermentation and/or vineyard), anti-oxidants or anti-microbial agents.
A percentage of the population experiences sensitivity to sulfites, particularly asthmatics and people with severe allergies. For those with allergies or sensitivity, having access to a low-sulfite wine means that they can still enjoy the pleasures of wine without concerning themselves with the physical drawbacks. A wine made without the preservative of added sulfites, is chemically a more fragile substance, unstable in nature and more subject to spoilage.
Sensitive to Sulfites?
The question of living a healthy lifestyle is now more of a concern for us than ever. Often people believe they are allergic to wine. Most (not all) of these people are either sensitive to sulfur or histamine. Buying organic wine will not solve that issue because sulfur and histamine are still likely to be present. Histamine is a byproduct of malolactic fermentation and sulfur can still be added (under 100 mg/L).
Some ways to avert reactions are:
- Buy more expensive wine. Expensive wine has more attention paid to it in the production, fewer short cuts are made, therefore less sulfur needs to be added.
- Avoid sparkling wine and sweet white wines. More sulphur is needed to make these products.
- If you are sensitive to histamine:. Avoid wines that have gone through malolactic fermentation (i.e., most red wines and many chardonnays).
- Avoid fortified wines. Fortified wines contain brandy spirit, which in turn contains methanol—a major cause of hangovers.
- Drink less in a sitting. It doesn’t matter what you’re drinking, if you binge drink it will always make you sick.
As you can see, the lines between organic, sustainable, preservative-free and biodynamic wines are overlapping and if you try some of the ones currently available to you, you’ll discover organics have come a long way since they were first introduce in the 1980s.Cheers.