Marin Preske is the sommelier at DTLA Italian restaurant Terroni. Prior to diving full-time into the wine world, Marin worked as an editorial staff member for various magazines in the publishing industry in New York City. Here, she breaks down everything you need to know to expertly navigate the world of “responsible” wine.
It all starts in the vineyard. That applies to every wine ever made, but in the case of responsible wine (whether it’s organic, biodynamic, or sustainable), that’s truly where it begins. Even though the classifications vary, they all have a few common objectives: to minimize the use of chemicals and additives, and to allow the terroir and individual grape varieties themselves to be more purely expressed in the final product. Of course, working with nature requires great skill. The land, climate, and overall unpredictability of the environment mean a winemaker must be adaptable, perceptive, and patient. Here’s a quick breakdown to help navigate the world of responsible wine.
This is the most general of all the categories, at least in terms of defined conventions and any sort of administered certification. (Both organic and biodynamic wines have governing bodies that perform inspections and grant authentication.) Sustainable winemaking is more of a choice by the winemaker in terms of how best to approach the process. In summary: wherever they are in the world, vintners elect for themselves how best to farm their vineyards with the goal that they’ll be completely self-sustainable.
Here’s where there a few fine lines crop up, mainly between the vineyard (where the grapes are grown) and the cellar (where the grapes are turned into wine). In order for a winemaker to list a wine as organic, he or she must use organically grown grapes and abstain from adding sulfites to the wine (at least as mandated by the USDA in the United States). To qualify as organically grown, grapes must be cultivated without the use of chemicals and additives, including anything from pesticides and fungicides to artificial fertilizers and other synthetic formulas. Certifications are awarded by an organization such as the Europe-based Ecocert. Considering the costs associated with achieving organic certification, it’s not unusual for a producer (especially a smaller one) to practice organic viticulture but forego the certification process. A certification might be better for the wine, but it’s not always better for the budget!
In short, the goal of biodynamic viticulture is to foster natural harmony in the vineyard. Biodynamic methods are used everywhere from the vineyard to the cellar and derive from the ideas of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. Biodynamics views the vineyard as a single organism and relies on nature’s ability to regulate itself. In practice, this means that winemakers and growers time activities (trellising, pruning, harvesting) with the cycles of the moon, using composts and various homeopathic preparations in place of any synthetic chemicals. Animals and insects are integral contributors to the vineyard since they graze on cover crops, naturally aerate and fertilize soils, and provide pest control through natural predator-prey relationships. Biodynamic practices extend to the winery, where winemakers use wild yeasts as opposed to the commercial variety. Biodynamic wines undergo zero fining or filtration and include little to no additives such as sulfur dioxide. Demeter is the world’s only biodynamic certifier.
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