Monday, March 28, 2011

Biodynamic, Organic and Kosher, OH MY!

Opened my email today to an article about 12 biodynamic wines, click here to see the article, and right away I realized,

"Biodynamic - yet another confusing label for the consumer."

I want to define the difference between organic, biodynamic and "regular" wines.  And as long as I'm at it, and maybe because it's almost Passover, I'll say a thing or two about kosher wines, too.

I've come to appreciate the whole idea of foods grown without pesticides, herbicides and synthetic fertilizer concoctions that end up in my system - all used to ensure a successful harvest in today's normative agricultural industry. 

Normative:  Generically, it means relating to an ideal standard or model. In practice, it has strong connotations of relating to a typical standard or model.

I also fancy but can't prove that a lot of organic foods taste better than their non-organic counterparts.  I think I can taste the slightly off-taste of toxic residues.  I didn't realize I could taste them until I started eating organic foods and then did some side-by-side tastings. Generally, the organic item tends to taste more zingy and true to the anticipated vegetable or fruit flavor, while the non-organic item is blander, maybe with a slight tinny or other under-flavor.  Although, on the other hand, I've had some pretty bland-tasting organic foods.  Organics can only be as tasty as the quality of the soil they're grown in.  Let me know if you've had any similar experiences.  Or if this is all in my mind. 

Organic farming avoids all pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and other toxic soil additives in favor of natural alternatives. These alternatives might be anything at all - old fashioned the way people used to do it before the wonders of chemistry, or downright creative.  For example, soil amendments tend to be manure and other organic materials.  More creatively, the vintners at my favorite organic vineyard, Montemaggiore, use sheep to eat their weed growth down.

From Wikipedia: "The most widely accepted definition of Organic wine is wine made from grapes grown in accordance with principles of organic farming, which typically excludes the use of artificial chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides.

Organic wine is generally consumed for its perceived health benefits and reduced environmental impact. The consumption of organic wine grew at a rate of 3.7 percent over the year ending September 19, 2009, out-pacing growth in the consumption of non-organic wine which grew 2%  during a similar period. There are an estimated 1500-2000 organic wine producers globally, including negociant labels, with more than 885 of these organic domaines in France alone.

The legal definition of Organic Wine is a complex issue and varies from country to country. The primary difference in the way that organic wine is defined relates to the use (or non use) of preservatives during the wine-making process."

Definitely not an Organic Apple Tree
 Biodynamic farming is a form of organic farming that dictates very specific practices in terms of soil amendments, planting preparations, and in its original form, first developed by Rudolf Steiner, some spiritual rituals.  Wikipedia says this:

"Biodynamic agriculture is a method of organic farming that treats farms as unified and individual organisms, emphasizing balancing the holistic development and interrelationship of the soil, plants and animals as a self-nourishing system without external inputs insofar as this is possible given the loss of nutrients due to the export of food. As in other forms of organic agriculture, artificial fertilizers and toxic pesticides and herbicides are strictly avoided. There are independent certification agencies for biodynamic products, most of which are members of the international biodynamics standards group Demeter International.

Regarded by some as the first modern ecological farming system and one of the most sustainable, biodynamic farming has much in common with other organic approaches, such as emphasizing the use of manures and composts and excluding of the use of artificial chemicals on soil and plants. Methods unique to the biodynamic approach include the use of fermented herbal and mineral preparations as compost additives and field sprays and the use of an astronomical sowing and planting calendar. Biodynamics originated out of the work of Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy."

In conclusion, both styles of farming are good for the ecosystem, the environment and you.  Whereas the norm is not. 

Kosher wines are another matter altogether.  Since there is nothing inherently non-kosher about wine, there is no particular wine-growing or wine-making techniques that must be employed.  Use of pesticides are not inherently unkosher, for example.  However, there are a bunch of religious requirements that make wine kosher.

One that always worries me has to do with a strict kashrut law against ingesting bugs, which means that grapes must be from bug-free vines.  I once had the pleasure of separating grapes from stems during a Sonoma harvest, and was shocked to see all the little six-legged critters scurrying away from the vines as we worked.  While many got away, I've opted to forget what I suspect about how many must not have made it.  Maybe the grapes used for kosher wines get a good power hosing, but maybe they get serious pesticide application.  I suppose it depends on the vintner, and this is something to be researched before buying kosher wine, if you're looking for organic product.

About kosher wines, from"Grapes from new vines may not be used for making wine until after the fourth year. Every seventh year, the fields must be left fallow, and there is a prohibition on growing other fruits and vegetables between the vines. All the equipment, tools, and wine-making storage facilities must be kosher. During the harvest, only Sabbath-observant male Jews are allowed to work on production of the wines. During the production of kosher wine, no animal products may be used. Even the fermentation yeasts must be certified kosher.

There's also the question of mevushal and non-mevushal wines. Mevushal wines are heated to near boiling, which means that non-Jews can handle an open bottle without rendering it unkosher. For this reason, most restaurants and catering halls serve only mevushal kosher wine.

That sound you hear? Traditional winemakers wincing at the prospect of that flash-pasteurization (boiling) process. And that's with good reason: the boiling process can hurt the quality of some wines, and destroys bacteria that contribute to the aging of wine. That means mevushal wines must be drunk young; forget about fine old vintages."

If you're interested in a well-made Napa kosher wine, you might try Hagafen WineryNot sure about their bug policies.

Anyway, I'm a reform Jew, and because there's nothing inherently unkosher about grapes in any form, I'll go with a de minimus rule as regards the bug issue and stick with organic wines. 

Let me put in a small plug for my favorite organic red wines, especially if you love Syrah, from a little boutique winery, Montemaggiore in Sonoma.  Their 2007 Syrah Reserve won a 91 point score from Parker Roberts!


  1. You are too kind to us!
    -Vince, Lise & Paolo

  2. No, you were kind to me. Plus your wines are magnificent.