An introduction to organic and biodynamic wines

Written By

May 27th 2020

As our attention towards the impact of climate change has grown in recent times, many more people have started to use reusable coffee cups, water bottles and recycling as much as possible, to decrease their carbon footprint and help the environment. Sustainability is also in the minds of growers and winemakers around the world, and in the last twenty years we have seen an increase in conversions to organic and biodynamic farming, but what do these terms actually mean?

What is organic farming?
Vines and soils are farmed without the use of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and synthetic fertilizers. They are treated with natural products, that is, plant and mineral-based treatments to fight diseases. Chemicals apparently make the vine and soil stronger, but over the long-term, they weaken the plants and compromise healthy soils.

What is biodynamic farming?
In the 1920s Rudolf Steiner was the pioneer of this type of organic agriculture. He focused on prevention (rather than treatment) with natural preparations made from chamomile, nettle, and dandelion to name a few. Other various aspects are also taken into account: polyculture, animal husbandry and the cycles of the moon. The moon has a powerful influence on agriculture, for example it can determine when is a good time to plant, prune vines and bottle the wines. Growers often follow the calendar of Maria Thun.

There are several organic and biodynamic certification bodies with their own standards to meet and different regulations according to the country you are in, e.g. the number of permitted additives.

Although many growers work with organic and biodynamic principles, many prefer not to be certified, as there can be a lot of bureaucracy, costs and limitations involved. Many of the wines we have on our list are not certified, but our growers and/or winemakers are very conscious of quality and respectful of their soils and vines, sometimes doing more than the basic requirement to be certified.

biodynamic-farming

Here below is a short list of our producers who are working organically and biodynamically:

ORGANIC WINES:

Domaine Bégude
Domaine Bégude was purchased by English couple James and Catherine Kinglake in 2003. The estate lies high in the beautiful foothills of the Pyrenees in the South of France, near Limoux, a village best known for its sparkling wine, Blanquette de Limoux and terrific Chardonnays. The key to Bégude’s excellent balance and freshness is the altitude of the vineyards – a staggering 350 metres above sea level – which ensures a long cool growing season. This fact, coupled with tiny yields, organically certified farming and biodynamic techniques, resulted in grapes of the highest quality. See the wine from Domaine Bégude

Tenuta Le Calcinaie
Tenuta Le Calcinaie is owned and run by one of the most delightful and passionate winemakers in all of Italy, Simone Santini. He produces exceptional organically certified Vernaccia from his estate that he purchased in 1984 and built up slowly to its first commercial release in 1993. Simone’s vineyards are planted in a unique terroir. Richly laden with ancient sea fossils (similar to the soil in Chablis), these calcium-rich shells dissolve into the earth during rainstorms. This water is then absorbed by the vine adding a soft salinity to his whites. Extended lees maceration creates additional complexity and roundness. His use of stainless steel tanks on many of his wines ensures exceptional purity of fruit which is long lived and refreshing, yet full on the palate. See the wines from Tenuta Le Calcinaie

vernaccia

Denis and Isabelle Pommier
Denis and Isabelle Pommier created this charming estate in 1990 after inheriting several small parcels from Denis’s grandfather. Since then they have added further plots so that the domaine now covers 18 hectares in total. Organically certified since 2014, the Pommiers craft vibrant, aromatic wines from native yeasts. The premiers crus are part fermented in barrels of varying ages and are delicious expressions of their Kimmeridgian terroirs. See the wines from Pommier

BIODYNAMIC WINES:

Sesti
Castello di Argiano Sesti, owned by father and daughter team Giuseppe and Elisa, is located in Montalcino and their vineyards are grown on the southern slopes of Montalcino (home of some of the greatest Brunello). Giuseppe (‘Giugi’) Sesti, studied fresco painting for 8 years before turning to ancient astronomy and lunisolar calendars. In 1975, he moved to Montalcino to find a quieter life and to explore his other interests including opera. He planted his own vines in 1991 after years of helping neighbouring winemakers with their harvests and wines. Today, he is considered as one of the leading winemakers of the region – a tremendous feat in such a short span of time. Giuseppe and Elisa follow organic and biodynamic approaches both in the vineyards and in the cellar. Fleshy and immediately appealing, his wines might be mistaken for top Right Bank Bordeaux – which is probably not such a bad thing. See the wines from Sesti

monteleccio

Domaine Chandon de Briailles
The sibling team at this stunning domaine (Francois and Claude de Nicolay) is most definitely a winning one. Their biggest influence has been to convert the estate firstly to organic and now to biodynamic methods of viticulture and vinification (see pictures above). The wines focus on sensual flavours and refinement, these are not powerful, but the aged vines allow for wines of extraordinary texture and complexity. See the wines from Domaine Chandon de Briailles

Comte Armand
Clos des Épeneaux is Pommard’s most celebrated climat. The 5.23 hectare monopole has been in the Comte Armand family since 1828. Paul Zinetti took over from Benjamin Leroux as régisseur in 2014, and is rising to every challenge at this small, characterful domaine. They also have small holdings in Volnay and Auxey Duresses and, while these wines have the distinctive character of quintessential Côte de Beaune, they are also some of the most sophisticated, nuanced expressions you might taste across these villages. An understated use of new oak matches the textured fruit, and gentle handling in combination with intuitive biodynamic practices afford these wines both strength and delicacy. The domaine has begun to noticeably outpace its neighbours and redefine how the finest terroir of Pommard is capable of not only power but elegance as well. See the wines from Comte Armand