The Future Is Green
THERE’S A GROWING THIRST FOR ORGANIC WINES MADE WITH LITTLE TO NO CHEMICAL INTERVENTION.
TIJAN BINER EXPLORES HOW AUSTRALIAN WINEMAKERS ARE MAINTAINING THE WHOLESOME IDENTITY OF THEIR GRAPES BY IMPLEMENTING BIODYNAMIC PRACTICES.
Made from grapes grown without pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or synthetic fertilisers, and with only small traces of sulphur-dioxide preservatives, acids, enzymes and tannins added to the finished product, organic varietals have caught the wine cognoscenti’s eye.
The process of creating a biodynamic wine, however, is taken a step further. The yearly winemaking calendar, which divides the days into ‘flower’, ‘fruit’, ‘leaf’ and ‘root’ categories, is vital as it monitors the influences of the moon and stars on Earth’s natural rhythms. While it might sound convoluted, practising winemakers believe that a combination of ecological self-sufficiency and modern agroecology produces organic, healthy grapes.
With consumers becoming more knowledgeable about how businesses and products plan to be more environmentally friendly, Australian winemakers are responding with natural, great-tasting varietals.
FROM HUMBLE BEGINNINGS
Since the inclusion of agricultural chemicals to wine in the 19th century, there were many concerns regarding public health and the environment. However, many groups struggled to attract an audience until the late 1960s, a time when organic farming was just beginning to gain traction.
A decade later, the organic wine industry emerged. Inspired by the prospect of producing a sustainable product that possessed distinct terroir, the flavour and aroma associated with the environmental conditions of the vineyard in which it was produced, winemakers began relying solely on the small amount of sulphur produced during fermentation, which acts as a preservative.
However, organic wine initially struggled in the marketplace compared to other organic food and drink products. Not only did the conventional wine industry perceive the introduction of it as a threat, but distributors and retailers refused to sell it as they believed it was more susceptible to spoilage due to its lack of sulphites.
In the late 2010s, the purity associated with biodynamic wine was finally realised. Organic varietals had become popular in many fine restaurants around the world, and many retailers expanded the sale of bottles by prominently displaying them in stores.
Now increasingly in demand by individuals who seek artisan varietals with character, as well as those who wish to consume products with little or no added chemicals, the thirst for organic wine is stronger than ever.
WORKING WINE TO FIVE
Being an organic or biodynamic producer requires a different way of thinking. A great winemaker knows their grapes and their land. They are in tune with the climate and work exceptionally hard to balance nature and technology – with as little intervention as possible – to produce fantastic wine.
While practising biodiversity in the vineyard certainly has its benefits, it’s no walk in the park for the winemaker. A vital aspect of the process involves relying on nature’s own cycles and rhythms to promote vine growth, as well as choosing natural options to promote that growth.
For example, winemakers may replace commercial fertilisers with more natural options, such as manure. Manure releases nitrogen as it decomposes, which is a vital nutrient for yeast in the fermentation process.
Organic producers will also plant trees and other flora around their vineyards to encourage predatory insects, such as wasps and bees, to populate the area. The insects build nests and pollinate the vineyard, as well as eat any mites that could do damage to the vines, which is a natural way of protecting the vines without using harsh chemicals.
Finally, a sustainable vineyard extends beyond the health of its vines. The cleanliness of a winery can determine how the wine will be produced, and its workers cannot be exposed to harmful commercial chemicals or products.
The environment must be just right to ensure no unwanted bacteria contaminate the winemaking vessels. If a winemaker is vigilant during the process, the finished product will be a great-tasting wine with exceptional terroir.
THE GRAPE DEBATE
It’s the question on everyone’s minds – is organic wine better for you? In short, yes. Since many natural wines contain no sulphites, which means no sulphur dioxide has been added during the winemaking process, it is a healthier alternative to standard wine. Wine drinkers can have adverse reactions to sulphites, such as headaches, asthma, skin flushing, itching, hay fever, abdominal pain, and skin rashes.
Some even believe that drinking organic wine prevents a nasty hangover, but unfortunately that’s not the case. Alcohol is still alcohol, and the inability to bounce back the next day could be a sign that you simply had too much to drink, so it’s always best to limit your consumption.
Aside from the health benefits, many wine drinkers immediately comment on the purity of flavour and clarity of an organic wine.
This derives from the vineyard’s biodynamic farming, which allows the producer to properly capture the true beauty of the grapes.
How can you tell if a wine is organic? Simply check its label. Here, you’ll find a myriad of clues, such as trademarked symbols and logos. After all, if a winemaker is going to adhere to biodynamic practices in the vineyard, they’ll want you to know about it.
While some may write off organic wine as a fad intended to attract the health-conscious, it offers much more than a few hangover-reducing benefits.
It’s an exceptionally fascinating method of winemaking, and one that produces finer-tasting, eco-friendly varietals. Besides, if a winemaker has gone through such trouble to craft the perfect bottle, it must be impressive.