Biodynamic Winemaking: The Least Interfering Of All Winemaking Styles
There are three broad categories of wine in South Africa: conventional wine (almost all of the 600 producers), organic wine (perhaps 20 producers) and biodynamic (BD) wine (three Demeter-certified producers – Reyneke, Waterkloof and Elgin Ridge – and another six that practice BD, but are not certified).
What’s your poison?
It’s helpful is to think of beef. Conventional wine is like feedlot beef. Organic wine is like the beef from grass-fed producers that finish their cattle on grain. Biodynamic wine is like pure grass-fed beef.
Underpinning the conventional wine business is the dominant paradigm of reductionism and chemistry. At the other end of the spectrum are biodynamic wine businesses, which are environmentally, socially and financially profitable.
Biodynamic grape-growers view their cellars as nurseries, as opposed to factories. Conventional wine is made with the same mindset that delivers feedlot/grain-fed beef, gestation crates for sows and caged laying hens. Wine grapes are supposed to be picked and crushed at optimal ripeness; conventional grapes fail this most basic test.
This should come as no surprise, considering the destruction of soil micro-organisms, the “feeding” of the plant with artificial fertilizers, the powerful chemicals applied to the soil, tillage (working the soil), destructive pruning methods and systemic sprays during the growing season.
Systemic sprays are particularly pernicious, as they enter the sap of the plant.
A vine can live for up to 100 years, but most conventional vines are removed between 10 and 15 years after planting. Most winemakers resort to a smorgasbord of chemicals to make a drinkable wine. This involves yeasts, enzymes, acids, flavorings, stabilization, osmosis and more.
Conventional wine has up to 50 artificial chemicals in it. Organic wine is an improvement on conventional wine, in that many of the toxic growing practices are avoided and the soils are nourished. The winemaking, however, follows the same reductionist philosophy. Biodynamic wine is a completely different product. The farm is treated as an organism, and fertility is created on the farm, as opposed to being purchased off the farm. The farmer, and hence the farm, is attuned to the rhythms and subtle sensitivities of nature through various practices.
In theory, BD winemaking should be the least interfering of all winemaking styles. BD winemakers simply obtain the juice, leave it to ferment and mature, and bottle it unfiltered. Adding sulphur is optional.
A note on sulphur: many people believe that non-sulphite wines are the ultimate achievement of the natural winemaking world. But these wines are aggressively filtered to prevent them from turning to vinegar. Sulphur is a natural preservative, but all wines in South Africa – except the Ezibusisweni wines – are preserved with sulphur that is a by-product of the petrochemical production process. The Ezibusisweni wines have mined sulphur added. Just as with your food, you choose your grape farmer with every glass or bottle of wine you drink. You choose: regeneration or destruction.
Click here to discover another type of healthier South African wine: Rooibos Wooded Lifestyle Wine!
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