This week's question via email from Brandon in Vacaville, CA
What's the difference between sustainable, biodynamic, and organic wine growing?
Organic is a term legally regulated by the USDA. Organic wines must be made with organically grown grapes, organic additives, and no added sulfites. Wines labeled "made with organic grapes" can have added sulfites but are otherwise made in the same way.
There are also other philosophies and practices in grape growing. It's not limited to either conventional or organic farming, like how we view the produce in grocery stores. Biodynamic and sustainable farming practices take into consideration much more and are not differentiated solely by the use of pesticides or herbicides.
Sustainable farming focuses on environmental stewardship, economic viability, and social equity. The purpose is to preserve and protect the natural environment, treat employees and community with care, and have sound business practices that are sustainable in the long-term. There are different certifying bodies that deem a vineyard or winery sustainable; one of the most recognized in California is the Sustainability in Practice (SIP) Certification. The SIP Certified seal found on a wine label is only given to producers who pass strict requirements to prove they are making sustainable choices for the environment, their employees, and the economy.
Biodynamic farming, the fun one! Biodynamic farming is probably the most interesting and controversial because it's more spiritual than scientific. It was developed in the 1920's by Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy. The focus is to create a diversified, balanced ecosystem with healthy and fertile soils. Farming decisions are scheduled around the lunar cycle and the four categories of Biodynamic days: Root, Fruit, Flower, and Leaf days. Special soil preparations are made with herbs and manure, stuffed in a cow horn, buried, and then later dug up to be made into a compost tea. The winemaking approach is natural, without any additives or commercial yeast.