Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine

We’re getting into late August which means grapes all over the Northern Hemisphere are ripening, weather forecasts are being watched more closely, and we here at the Organic Wine Journal are taking a breather.  Between baseball games and late summer getaways, we’ve been tasting lots of incredible organic, natural, and biodynamic wines while taking copious notes for you, our loyal readers.  We’re also hard at work behind the scenes acquiring new and interesting content for our site in the near future.

So enjoy your roses, bubbles, crisp whites or slightly chilled reds and we’ll see you in a few weeks with many new features, reviews, and announcements.  Until then, we’ll be the guys sneaking a screw top bottle full of Gruner Veltliner into the baseball game and pairing it with every piece of junk food under the sun.


Greg, Adam, & Jonathan

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Judging The Judges

The recent announcement that Wal-Mart will be evaluating the environmental impact of the products sold in its stores was more than a little weird. As the biggest of the big box stores worldwide, a merchant that made “we sell for less” the gold standard in retailing, this new obsession with “sustainability” and “traceability” gave us real pause.

Wal-Mart’s track record as a steward of decency is, to put it mildly, thin. They have been forced to settle court cases on employee overtime issues, gender discrimination and have ongoing inquiries with states over taxation and with environmentalists over new sites. They alone are the single largest party responsible for the transfer of dollars to China and the rise of the Yuan as a global currency. Their stance on labor organizing is well known. Many have blamed the demise of Main Street on their predatory pricing policies. We could go on.

But what caught our eye at is that someone very, very high up at Wal-Mart thinks the public wants to know what is the karma behind the products they buy to wear, use and eat. We agree. Our thesis of “responsible hedonism” and the “ethics of luxury and the luxury of ethics” have always stood for learning what is behind the wines we drink. We have always asked: How was this wine made? How were the vines nurtured? What were the field workers exposed to? What was added in the vintning process? What was the energy profile in the making and storage?

We have always thought this was an important part of the enjoyment of the beverage, and now so does Wal-Mart. This could be huge because this retailer touches the very core of America and, increasingly, the world’s shoppers. When they start demanding from their suppliers proof of sustainability, what comes next? Will they list the pesticides, herbicides and fungicides that are used? Will they reveal water usage per acre? When it comes to wine, will we be told the levels of these chemicals found on their vineyard laborers skins?

This door is a very hard one to close. Back to the stores themselves: We can see the rise of outside graders who will analyze the economic impact of Wal-Mart on small towns and suburban counties. We could see sending monitors to the countless Chinese factories churning out all the low price stuff. Anyone want to guess what they would find in terms of environmental and labor issues? Yet, all in all it’s a good thing because these proposed little profiles on the shelf next to the product will be a constant reminder that what is behind the product can be as important as the product itself. If it backfires, that will be a good thing too because it will force them to reform or abandon the plan in an embarrassing retreat. If it works, it could force everyone else to stop hiding behind sexy, clever ad campaigns and low prices and tell us what we’re really buying and drinking.

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It seems strange that the burden of labeling and certifying is placed on organic farmers. That gives the impression they’re doing something remarkable when, with the exception of about a century, they have all of history behind them.

The words we use show how much things have changed. When it comes to farming, organic is now the opposite term for conventional, which is just another way of saying normal. No one refers to themselves as a chemical farmer or winemaker. The natural method has become the unnatural.

So, it’s the organic producers who have to pay the costs, fill out the paperwork, and argue about standards just to tell you what they’re not doing. Imagine if the situation was reversed, and this burden was placed on conventional winemakers instead. Your wine selection might be a little different for dinner tonight if you saw on a label the products they had to use to bring that bottle to market.

A lot of money goes into making sure you don’t know, and in some cases are not allowed to know, the chemicals used in modern food production. Monsanto, the world’s largest producer of genetically modified seed, loves to vouch for the safety of injecting cows with growth hormones, but milk producers who use this method don’t exactly want to boast about it on their labels. In fact, Monsanto spends a lot of money backing legislation to prevent other producers from boasting they don’t use growth hormones in their milk. This would allow customers to choose to avoid their products, and they don’t want that to happen.

From a capitalist standpoint, it might seem we have a great system. Everybody is paying for what they want. Organic farmers pay to advertise their virtues, and conventional farmers pay to conceal their faults. Unfortunately, the use of chemicals is backed by tremendous sums of money, and with it the ability to influence legislation. Organic farmers tend to be the smaller operations, who cannot always shoulder the burden and bureaucracy of certification. It would be a nice change to consider them the normal ones, and let the unnatural companies have to pay to let you know what they are up to.

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Two weeks ago President Obama threw his first White House dinner for the political elite. He had the state governors over. President Obama served organic wine. Yes, our new President, a man who loves wine, and has his own wine collection, chose to do the right thing and not poison his guests. Obama served three wines: a California Spottswoode, Oregon’s Archery Summit and Michigan’s Black Star Farms ice wine. We’ve had a grin on our face for weeks after learning the news. Why? Because we believe events like this will make the country understand that drinking organic and biodynamic wines is the right thing to do.

They are the right thing to do for their terroir-focused flavors and tastes. They are the right thing to drink because they don’t poison farm workers, earthworms, birds and insects. They are the right thing to drink because they don’t add toxic pesticides, herbicides and fungicides to the land and the water that irrigates it. Clearly President Obama “gets it” and understands that as part of raising the consciousness of all we eat and drink “going organic” includes wine as well as food.

This is a shot across the bow to conventional wine makers and other poisoners of the environment. Obama has come through for Organic Wine Journal readers.

Happy Drinking Mr. President.

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Three Sheets To The Wind

sailWhen I am not obsessing about organic and biodynamic wine, I relax by obsessing about sailing, often by thumbing through my favorite magazine, the British-based Yachting World. Imagine my surprise and joy, when there among the breathtaking photos of racing yachts, was an article about green transport of wine by… sailboat. CTMV, a company based in France, is reducing the carbon footprint of wine transport by returning to the past and using wind power to bring the “claret,” as Bordeaux was once referred to in London’s clubs, from France to Great Britain and Ireland.

As of now, they are doing this in a sort of ceremonial way by using an old barkentine (a three masted ship to all you lubbers), the Belem. A second vintage ship, the Kathleen and May, is also making the voyage, loaded with wine headed to London. The company seems thoroughly organized. They have impressed (as in the gang sense) over eighty Languedoc/Roussillon wine makers to fund the venture.

What really had me excited, however, was the company’s plans for state-of-the-art sailing ships. The first one is in the construction shed scheduled to be launched in the summer of 2010. She will be 156 ft. long, hold 210 tons of wine and sail at 11kts. Now that’s a maiden voyage I would book passage on! She should easily be able to go Trans-Atlantic.

Wouldn’t it be great to meet this ship at the quays like people did a hundred years ago and celebrate the cargo’s arrival? It would also be great if Frederic Albert, the man with the plan, could convince all the vineyards to put a little label (post consumer paper of course) on each bottle with an image of the boat so that we know we are drinking in a more responsible manner.

Bon Voyage!

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Ceracasi rappresntante in Italia per l’ Organic Wine Journal.

Questa pesona avra’ due incarichi.

Il primo incarico: scrivere, produrre e trovare aritcoli e storie a proposito il mondo del vino organico e biologico in Italia, profili di aziende vinicole e persone conivolte in questo campo.

Abbiamo bisogno di storie di successi e difficolta’ riguardo il movimento del vino organico in Italia.
Esempi di questi aricoli possono essere trovati sull’
Il Secono incarico: vendere pubblicita’ sul sito.

I clienti per questo sito sono produttori di vino, agriturismo e esportatori di vini.

La conoscenza dell’ inglese parlato e scritto e’ essenziale. Contattateci sul sito:

We’re looking for a representative in Italy for The Organic Wine Journal. This person will have two roles.

The first is to write and find articles and stories about the world of organic and biological wine in Italy including profiles of wine makers and others involved in this field. We need stories of the successes and difficulties regarding the biological wine movement in Italy. Examples of these types of articles can be found on this site.

The second task consists of selling advertising on the site. The clients for this are wine producers, agriturismo in Italia, and wine exporters.

Fluency in writing and speaking English is essential. Contact us at this site:

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More and more wine lovers and professionals are discovering a source of complexity, a surge of vitality and an additional purity in the increasing number of biodynamic wines. There is also no doubt that this type of agriculture can be confusing to those who try to understand it. Biodynamic agriculture adds very small amounts or preparations, varying from 1 to 100 grams per hectare, that have usually been dynamized in water. How can such small quantities have any real effect on the quality of wine? Wouldn’t the result be the same with simple biological agriculture?

Let us begin by observing the corpse of an animal that has just died. In a few weeks its simple elements will again be part of the earth. Thus the question to ask is: where are the energies which constructed this organism in such a sophisticated manner? Who took the calcium to sculpt the bone? Who took the silica to form the hair? Don’t these forces exist in other ways besides forming embryos?

A seed. An egg. Are they not simply receptacles of a perfectly organized world of energy which the forces of life give to Earth? Do they not exist independently of their link with matter through which they become visible? By asking these questions, we enter into the discovery of laws that are very real and concrete, but are no longer, so to speak, terrestrial laws. They are not subject to the force of gravity, to this world of weight and volume discovered by Newton. These are laws that can not be measured the same way.

In the third edition of my book Wine From Sky to Earth, I devote an entire chapter to the presentation of tests, and give images of this world of energies in wine and food and the manner in which different types of agriculture can modify them. The microscope does not have access to these realities. What must be understood is that human beings are only a sum of frequencies or rhythms. It’s a vibratory world. There is no life without frequencies and mini-frequencies.

Our society, and each one of us, use this vibratory world on a daily basis. Through satellites, portables, transmitters and microwaves. We use it to such an extent that it becomes a problem. This abundance of new frequencies disturb the frequencies which influence life itself. No one is surprised to hear the voice of someone thousands of miles away on their cellular phone. The call does not even use a thousandth of a gram of waves. Waves are not measured by weight.

In biodynamic agriculture, a few grams of preparations act as relays or catalysts of precise processes indispensable to the life of plant; a life which we have seen is not tangible. Those unaware of the energy world they use every day become offended. Think about how many grams of quartz make your watch work for over a year. So why shouldn’t a biodynamic preparation based on quartz accelerate photosynthesis, which generates the sugars, the colors and the aromas? Why wouldn’t the preparations destined for the earth accelerate mycorhiza; the linking of roots with earth?

Conventional agriculture inundates the vines and the soil with fungicides, herbicides and chemicals to prevent rot, spiders and other pests. Each treatment strangles, a little bit more, the link between the forces which influence our lives. I offer these observations for wine lovers concerned about the quality of wines you collect and cellar:

1. The use of chemical treatments reduces the capacity of vines to receive solar energy through their leaves, and earth energy through their roots. And there is no way to avoid this increasing. Each additional treatment to control disease will bring about collapse on a large scale, which will necessitate even more treatments.

For wine-growers caught in this dilemma, technology is the only way they can achieve the appearance of quality in their wines. Thus, their wines can be imitated in countries where labor is cheaper. In addition, the wine’s capacity to age properly is greatly diminished.

2. The so-called agriculture raisonnée would be satisfied with the 20% reduction of toxic chemicals. This does not constitute any real progress. The life-forces of the wine need to remain in good health to manifest its appellation. This explains why more and more wineries choose biodynamic as the only method which effectively links the vine to its environment.

3. By using this world of energies more directly, biodynamics increases the possibility for the vines to receive the characteristic of the appellation; providing the basis for what we love in a wine. Also thanks to its special relationship with the life-forces, two or three years of biodynamics can wipe out the harmful effects of herbicides. It takes biological agriculture several decades to reach the same goal.

This was proved in Australia. Land saturated with DDT had been forbidden for further cultivation by the government. However, after three years of biodynamics, it was able to be farmed again. Thus more and more serious wine-growers will continue to swell the ranks of biodynamics, even though attempts are made to ridicule it to preserve lucrative conventional markets.

To pretend that biodynamics is not effective is to be part of yesterday’s world. Unfortunately today’s world is just as alarming. The world of energies is an organized world that can be used either for good or bad. Biodynamics uses it without trying to modify it. Not everyone has the same scruples.

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I’ll be honest; I wouldn’t buy a wine that was contained in anything else but a glass bottle. Bag in Box? Nada. PET bottle? Irredeemably naff. Tetrapak? That’s for milk.

But it’s time to fight the creeping tendency towards bottling wine in ever thicker and heavier glass. The average wine bottle in the UK weighs 500g and the lightest 300g. Of course Champagne bottles are far heavier, but at least they have the excuse that they have to have extra strength to cope with 6 atmospheres of pressure!

I regularly encounter glass wine bottles that are in the 800-900g category and the worst offenders are now easily over the kilo mark. Supposedly, this is all about marketing, about creating difference and recognition, of shouting “hey! I’m a super premium and super lovely luxury product!” However I refuse to believe that anyone is so stupid that they will choose a wine primarily based on how heavy it is in their shopping basket. Moreover, I’ve tried to correlate bottle weight, wine quality and price at a number of Trade tastings attended over the past year and can now report: there is none.

Yes, glass is 100% recyclable, but the UK just can’t use it all up and the extra weight of these über-bottles adds cost to the product, uses more raw materials and makes a bigger carbon footprint too. Then they don’t fit on merchants shelves and won’t fit in my bottle racks either.

I’ve also heard other arguments advanced for thicker heavier glass, such as more protection from breakage. Guys, a 300g glass bottle can have enough structural integrity so that it is no more statistically likely to break. Or this one – “well, heavier glass is more opaque, better for ageing and protection from UV.” Umm, that’s surely about colour, not weight and the majority of wine bought is consumed quickly after purchase anyway.

And the culprits? Well I originally thought that Californian excess and Italian design flair would make these countries the worst offenders but in fact those responsible for these steroidal excesses can be found globally. One of the saddest findings is that some organic and biodynamic producers are also guilty and you’d think they’d know better.

It’s great to see that the WSTA and WRAP have just hosted a London forum on improving company co-operation to use lighter weight bottles, as clearly this is a wasteful supply chain issue where producers and retailers need to change. Given that single estates in particular prefer to bottle at source rather than ship in bulk then moving to lighter bottles is straightforward and makes a lot of sense.

I also think that Wine Educators can play a part – in consumer education yes, but also by taking this up at Trade tastings with merchants, importers and producers. Perhaps if our voice is loud enough they will listen.

In fact I raised this recently with a Californian producer known for his 17% Zinfandels after I found I did not have the musculature to lift a 750 ml bottle approaching 2kg in weight. As the contents were invisible I was surprised to find the bottle nearly empty. So heavy and over-engineered it was that it looked like it should be used at Sellafield to contain spent nuclear fuel. Suffice to say I’m not on his Christmas card list anymore. Actually, given the contents…

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