Winemakers have produced wines organically for thousands of years, but over the last century, new methods have been introduced to gain greater control of the winemaking process, reduce risk and create better wine. The fermentation process, changing grape juice to wine, can take several months or longer, and any failure can ruin thousands of gallons of valuable wine. That’s why winemakers use additives, such as sulfites, to remove the natural yeast found on grapes, add a special cultured yeast to speed up fermentation, and fine (remove solids) and filter to create clear, palatable wine.
But there is growing pushback on these additives and processes. Some winemakers, mostly young, are returning to more traditional winemaking methods and adding new twists. Their wines are called biodynamic wines, and they are popping on the lists of restaurants around the U.S. In cities like New York; Portland, Oregon; and Charleston, South Carolina, whole bars are opening that are devoted to so-called “natural wines.”
Organic farming methods became popular in the ’60s as people became more focused on how their food was produced and began shunning artificial additives. According to the Biodynamic Association, biodynamic farming is “a spiritual-ethical-ecological approach to gardens, agriculture, food production and nutrition.” The vineyard is seen as a source of microbial life and a complete ecosystem. No pesticides or fertilizers are used. Animals are abundant and, through manure and compost, enrich the soil, which produces higher-quality grapes.
These grapes are then turned into wine using the natural yeast formed on the grapes. No additives, fining or filtration are used to disturb the natural balance, which makes a risky process even riskier. It is therefore not unusual for even a biodynamic winemaker to add a small amount of sulfite after fermentation to stabilize the product.
Biodynamic farming was introduced by Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s. He espoused practices based upon the lunar calendar and astrological influences. These methods have since become expanded upon and are considered controversial. For example, a basic tenet revolves around four days: root days, flower days, fruit days and leaf days. Fruit days are for harvesting, leaf days for watering, root days for pruning and flower days for leaving the vineyard alone.
The most controversial aspect of biodynamic farming is the cow horn. Cow horns are filled with manure and buried in the vineyard through the winter. When excavated, the material is then spread through the vineyard. According to enthusiasts, it stimulates soil microbial activity and regulates pH.
How much these practices contribute to a better wine is debatable. Availability in Sarasota is limited. There are over 700 biodynamic producers worldwide, but not every local shop carries them. Frey Vineyards is the most prominent U.S. producer. You can find a Frey cabernet sauvignon and a Frey chardonnay at Whole Foods Market in Sarasota. Curious about this new trend? Try a pour.