As the world is changing, so is winemaking. Or one could say, it's going back to the ancient ways. We talk about the different between organic, biodynamic and sustainable wines, and its translation in the Indian context
By: Sommelier Nikhil Agarwal, CEO – All Things Nice
Posted on: February 25, 2019
Most of us are already familiar with the concept of organic fruits and vegetables and the reason why you should choose to go organic over the regular produce. In an ever-changing world with increasing focus on our global environment and its future, including the source and methods used to grow our food, it is only natural that wine makers and wine consumers are taking this up in the wine world too. I read a report some time ago where it was estimated that 7% of the world’s vineyards are either organic or on the path to becoming organic.
Say no to chemicals
Simply put, just like you want your produce to be as chemical free as possible, you would want your wine to adhere to those principals too. First, we must differentiate between two components of the word organic when it comes to wine. Organic wine is made without the use of sulphites and chemicals or very limited use of these chemicals in the grape growing and wine making process.
Separately you can also get wine made from grapes grown organically however regular wine-making practices are followed to convert the juice into wine in the winery. Keep in mind that sulphur dioxide is also naturally produced during the wine-making process. In a nutshell, organic wine simply removes the addition of any sulphur or chemicals to the natural equation of grape growing and wine making by using natural pesticides and natural farming practices such as crop rotation and composting.
By following this practice, a less harmful wine is produced for both you and the environment. Every bottle of wine must have on the label in bold ‘contains sulphites’ to serve as a warning, but we often overlook it. Some people are allergic to sulphites. I have asthma for example and wines with a lot of sulphur in them trigger an attack. For others, a reaction could be a painful headache.
Now that doesn't mean that you dismiss all wines. Sulphites found in most forms of wine are mostly limited. Good wine makers understand the effect of chemicals on their wines and use them sparingly. The ones that use chemicals beyond what is permissible are likely to taste terrible and would therefore be skipped anyway.
Biodynamic takes it a few steps ahead. It takes the principle of organic wine production and adds to it by keeping in mind that the vineyard is part of the universe and that the vineyard should be kept in its natural state. Biodiversity is encouraged to ensure that the soil structure and nutrient system is balanced. You will find biodynamic vineyards with flowers growing in between vine rows for example. In addition grapes are grown as per the lunar calendar with the intention to harness the energies of the moon and other parts of the cosmos. You would be surprised that this practice isn’t new. In fact, it is an ancient way of growing produce that is only being re-discovered. In an Indian context, some farmers till date have been following these practices for centuries, but would have never heard of the term organic or biodynamic.
The idea behind both concepts is that the wine should be as natural as possible with the aim of being chemical free. A good wine maker or viticulturist should not have to rely on chemicals to make a good wine anyway. Some wonderful Biodynamic wines, available in India, include Querciabella, Benzinger, M. Chapoutier, Gramona Cava and Heinrich Pinot Noir.
A green ecosystem
Sustainability takes into account the ecology of the vineyard and maintaining its natural resources. It advocates social responsibility too with practices like solar energy, water conservation, maintaining the quality of air and water, preserving local ecosystems. This is all done keeping in mind that any practices associated with winemaking and vineyards should be economically sustainable too. Robert Mondavi, perhaps one of the most well-known wine brands across the world, is a sustainable brand.
Certificates for all three categories can be received based on third party checks, which can be communicated to consumers via the certification body’s logo on wine labels. This gives consumers confidence when looking for out for such wines.
In more advanced parts of the world, these terms and practices are taken very seriously by consumers. In some countries, a bulk of wine consumers will only choose wines that have these certifications, and therefore, to be competitive in those markets, wine makers or importers ensure that the wines offered are organic as well.
In India, consumers are less aware and therefore less demanding too. Indian wineries may follow some sustainable practices, but I have yet to come across a winery that follows organic or biodynamic principles. The monsoon in India creates an environment where natural methods may not be enough to prevent disease in the vineyard. Perhaps one day, when we have wineries up in the north of India, we too will experiment with organic and biodynamic wines. Till then, many wineries from Germany, France, Italy, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Chile and USA are trying to bridge the gap.
I have tasted all sorts of wines and would not say that the any of the above wines taste better. I also would not say that all wines that are not organic or biodynamic are bad for you. That would be a careless assumption. I would say, however, that less chemicals in what we eat or drink the better, and if following these practices gives us that, then more power to them!
Nikhil Agarwal is a trained Sommelier who received his degree in London and heads All Things Nice, a leading wine and spirits consultancy that offers specialized services for the wine and spirits industry as well as creates a platform to introduce and educate Indian consumers on wine, spirits and gourmet food. Mr Agarwal won the Wine Australia scholarship in 2012 and became the organization’s A+ Wine Educator in India the following year. In 2015, after a selection of entrants from 90 countries, he was one amongst five contenders short-listed by the International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC) for The Julian Brind Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Wine and Spirits Industry. He has also been acknowledged as one of 100 most influential people in luxury in India by the Blackbook India magazine. Mr Agarwal has written for and has appeared on NDTV Profit, Times Now, Bloomberg TV and ET Now. CNBC did a feature on him as part of the show ‘Young Turks’ in 2013. Currently, Discovery Channel features Mr Agarwal in the show The Flying Wine Maker. Mr Agarwal has been invited by trade organizations from around the world to speak about the Indian wine and spirits industry and is considered a thought leader and major influencer in India’s wine and spirits story.