So many wines, so much confusion. Sustainable, organic, biodynamic: what does it all mean?
On this site, we'll try our best to help you understand your options and why biodynamically grown wines should zoom to the top of your list.
• Often consumers want to know: what's in my wine? It's true that supermarket as well as high end wines contain a lot of additives we don't know much about and that aren't labeled on the bottle.
• But the bigger question, often overlooked, is what was sprayed on the wine grapes your wine was made from?
• Wine grapes that aren't organic or biodynamic have pesticide residues.
• A popular herbicide that's a carcinogen
• It's commonly found in high levels in breakfast cereals and oats
• In wine, it's used to kill weeds in vineyards and remains in the wine
• Studies have shown that herbicides kill off half of the beneficial fungi that give wine grapes their flavor
• Commonly used fungicides are copper and synthetic chemicals
• The most popular synthetics include boscalid (typically combined with heavy metals and petroleum residues) and fenhexamid
• These synthetics are bee and bird toxins, endocrine disruptors and neurotoxins
• In wine, they are used to control mildew and remain in the wine
• Like herbicides, they are not specific about which fungi to target and they kill the beneficial fungi
• They can optimize a wine's potential so that healthy grapes reach the highest quality, depending on the skill of the grower and the winemaker and Mother Nature.
• Many of the world's most famous producers are biodynamic. The most expensive Pinot Noir in the world comes from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Domaine Leroy—both are biodynamic. One of the top Rhone wine producers, Chapoutier, and the prestigious Eisele Vineyard in Napa (owned by the owner of the famous Bordeaux estate Chateau Latour) are also certified biodynamic,
• As a category, biodynamically grown wines have received more than their fair share of praise and adoration—ranking higher (as a group) than peers in scores and competitions.
• Health | For starters, biodynamic (and organic) wine grapes are grown without toxic or petroleum based chemicals. So that's better for soil, water, air, people, birds, bees, critters and the environment.
• Climate| Studies have shown that, like organically grown vines, biodynamic vineyards sequester more carbon than conventional or sustainable wines do.
• Biodiversity | Biodynamic vineyard are required to set aside 10% of their land for biodiversity and must also conserve water. They also source materials as locally as possible.
• Soil Health| Biodynamic vineyards also have more biodiversity in soil microorganisms than other farming systems).
• Green Energy | Biodynamic growers and vintners are also encouraged to use solar energy. One winery was the first winery in the U.S to be certified by the Living Building Challenge™ (LBC), the world’s most rigorous green building standard. The standard incorporates regenerative principles.
• Corporate Social Responsibility | Out of 60 biodynamic producers in the U.S., four are B Corps, the highest standard for percentage of any category of winery.
• Overall | While biodynamic vineyards represent only .003% of California's vineyards, biodynamic wineries owners overdelivered in green wine awards (2015-2018), winning 25% of the California Wine Institute's Green Medal awards.
• No. They cost the same and are available in every price level.
• On this website you'll find everything from $15 bottles rated 91 points by leading international critics to world class Napa Cabs for $550.
• Like other wine categories, biodynamically grown wines come in a wide range of styles. Winemakers make their wines according to their own preferences on how to best express the flavor of their grapes each year.
• Sulfites | About 40+ wines on this site are made without sulfites but the other 300+ wines, like fine wines in general, contain limited amounts of sulfites—typically under 100 ppm.
• Yeasts | Most, but not all, of the winemakers choose to vinify their grapes on native yeasts. (Choosing a wine that is certified as a "Biodynamic Wine," means that only native yeast was allowed.)
• Additives| Biodynamic producers have varied approaches. Many wines are additive free except for the addition of low amounts of sulfites. (Many natural wines also have a low levels of added sulfites.) Other biodynamic winemakers may add acid—which is sometimes necessary because of climate warming.
• Consumers can seek out certified Biodynamic Wines on the site. This certification standard that means the wines, aside from a limited number of sulfites, are additive free.
• Anyone who wants to enjoy good wine.
• With an active and rampant rumor mill, media fake news, greenwashing, and people who somehow think a good agronomic standard is the same as sorcery or witchcraft, it's comical how much misinformation runs riot when the topic is biodynamics.
• Get the facts on bd.wine.
• Take a quick look at the residue charts below to see how organic and biodynamic farming produces wines with fewer residues.
• Then, if you'd like to dive down into the more detailed story on how biodynamic is an alternative to "business as usual" in the eco-unfriendly wine industry, read on.
Tests for glyphosate residues in wine show that wines grown with the popular carcinogen have up to 50X more glyphosate than organic or biodynamically grown wines.
Though organic and biodynamic growers do not use glyphosate, U.S. government studies have found it is in many water sources, including rainwater.
Eating or drinking glyphosate has been shown to reduce the good gut bugs in the tummy and is linked to liver disease.
Data Source: HRI Labs
Dr. Michael Antoniou of the University of London is one of the leading researchers on the health effects of glyphosate on the human microbiome.
In 2019 he and his team identified the exact enzyme that affects bacteria in the human gut.
The study's findings also determined that even the tiniest amounts of glyphosate had an effect.
Tests for glyphosate residues in wine show that wines grown with fungicides have significant fungicide residues compared to organic and biodynamic wines.
Conventional wines have 9X more copper residues. Copper is a common ingredient in many conventional fungicides.
Organic and biodynamic have no residues from boscalid (a bird and bee toxin) and fenhexamid because they do not use these harsh, synthetic chemicals.
Data Source: Copper in Wines and Vineyards
Vineyards use much more than just glyphosate and fungicides.
Chemicals of concern are bird and bee toxins, carcinogens, neurotoxins and developmental and reproductive toxins.
Residues are more widespread in food than in wine. Experts says supporting organic and biodynamic growers is key to avoiding them.
Data Source: California Dept. of Pesticide Use
French scientist Gilles-Eric Seralini (left) a professor in molecular biology at the University of Caen, and his colleague Jerome Douzelet, a noted chef (right), studied the taste of pesticides in wine.
In their research, wine experts could taste pesticides in wine when the pesticides were diluted in water at the same concentration that these residues are found in wine.
The tasters even provided tasting notes on the pesticides
Springtime brings yellow strips in vineyards. The yellow strip is a result of spraying glyphosate under the vines.
Photo: Sonoma County, California
Melting glaciers, rising temperatures, floods, wildfires—the "scary list" goes on and on. Our climate crisis demands action—action to save soils and sequester more carbon.
• Experts say that agriculture has the potential to drawdown 40% of the excess carbon.
The world is also facing a terrible and immediate environmental crisis on other fronts.
• Bees are endangered and with them their ability to pollinate our food crops.
• Agriculture has launched an all assault on insects, giving rise to the newly coined term "insectageddon."
Pesticides: Made from Petroleum Distillates
• Studies have shown that Roundup, a commonly used vineyard herbicide, contains not only the carcinogen glyphosate but also far more toxic, unlisted ingredients including heavy metals, arsenic and petroleum-based distillates.
• Manufacturing pesticides and synthetic fertilizers are processes that require intensive use of fossil fuels.
Pesticides and Healthy Ecosystems Don't Mix
Meanwhile, more than 95 percent of U.S. wineries—even the ones the industry calls "sustainable"—continue to pour on the chemicals.
• In California (where 85% of domestic wine is grown), state authorities say that in 2017 winegrowers used more than 603,901 pounds of glyphosate based herbicides on wine grape vines alone. (There are 550,000 acres of wine grape vines in the state.)
• Every spring, residents of wine country see the yellow strips appear—vineyards sprayed with herbicides, including Roundup. Roundup and other herbicides contain a carcinogen, glyphosate, that many countries and wine country towns are now banning from city parks and schools. (They can't ban it from agriculture). Aside from human health concerns, these herbicides weaken vines' health and natural defense systems.
• Medical studies show that those who spray glyphosate or Roundup frequently increase their risk of getting non Hodgkin lymphomas by 41 percent.
• Eating food and beverages with glyphosate residues is linked to liver disease (even in people who don't drink alcohol).
• Then there's the fungicides. Walk into wine country's toniest restaurants and you'll see $600 bottles of Pinot Noir grown with these chemicals. Fungicides are commonly used, but don't target just the "bad" fungi. They kill the beneficial fungi underground that protect plants above ground and give wine grapes their flavor.
Pesticides Affect the Taste of Wine
French researchers have found that experts can taste pesticide residues present in wine.
• 603,901 pounds of the carcinogen glyphosate (found in the herbicide Roundup)
• 49,417 pounds of the neurotoxin chlorpyrifos
Sustainable programs: Allowed
Organic or Biodynamic: Prohibited
Climate scientists say that agriculture is one of the worst carbon emitters, releasing at least "50 percent of the carbon in soils into the atmosphere over the past centuries."
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on ClimateI Change (IPCC), much of that is through deforestation.
• In 1998, Kendall Jackson bulldozed 843 oaks to create a vineyard in Santa Barbara County, sparking public outcry.
• In 2011, Justin Vineyards and Winery in Paso Robles, owned by the Resnick family, California's biggest water barons, bulldozed large tracts of oaks in Los Alamos. In 2016, the same winery laid waste to thousands more oaks in Paso Robles in violation of its permit.
Both Kendall Jackson and Justin Vineyards are certified sustainable.
• In Napa, citizens are alarmed by continuing vineyard development on Howell Mountain, where new owners are being allowed to cut down acres of virgin forests in valued watershed areas.
Demeter's biodynamic standards prohibit cutting virgin forest for agriculture and require that 10 percent of the farm's land be set aside for wildlife and biodiversity.
"Bringing that carbon back home through regenerative agriculture is one of the greatest opportunities to address human and climate health," Project Drawdown, wrote in its solutions report.
In a recent study commissioned by Bonterra, Davis based Pacific Agroecology compared carbon sequestration in conventional, organic and biodynamic vineyard soils.
Organic soils sequestered 9.4% more carbon than conventional ones, and biodynamic vineyards sequestered 12.8% more than conventional ones.
"Approximately 11,600 acres of new vineyards in Sonoma County were identified from 1990 through 1997...
Compared to vineyards established before 1990, a higher percentage of vineyards planted between 1990 and 1997 were located on hillsides that supported oak woodlands."
SOLUTION: SEQUESTER AND RECYCLE CARBON
"The heart of a biodynamic farm's fertility system is the sequestering and recycling of carbon."
A small band of winegrowers and wineries—including the 60 producers featured on this site—are forging a path to a more ecologically sound, organic and regenerative agriculture.
Biodynamic farming, based in part on traditional practices, meets all the materials standards that organic systems requires but goes further in that it specifies regenerative practices.
• Maximize the use of on-farm inputs to improve soil and plant health
• Integrate domesticated, farm animals into farming practices where appropriate
• Apply biodynamic herbal and mineral based preparations on compost and vineyards
• Use biodynamic compost (created from on-site green waste and from animal manure—often obtained from neighbors' properties—treated with the biodynamic preparations)
• Set aside 10% of the land for wildlife and biodiversity
What are the results of farming this way?
• Scientists have found that the compost piles treated with biodynamic compost teas, burn hotter and faster and that biodynamic grapes have higher levels of phenols and anthocyanins (the things that give grapes color and flavor).
• Other studies have found plants treated with biodynamic sprays are more resilient.
"...those who have adopted biodynamic viticulture...report that vines thus reared ripen well-balanced grapes much earlier and more completely than their conventionally farmed neighbours. Perhaps this really is the answer."
• British wine writer Jancis Robinson
So, are the wines bad? No, they're better, overall, say leading wine experts.
Though biodynamic producers are .003% of U.S. wineries (60 out of 10,000), they represented 8 percent of U.S. winners in wine's most competitive awards program Wine & Spirits magazine's Top 100 Wineries of 2019.
According to British wine writer Jancis Robinson, the taste in fine wines is discernible. "I can't taste when a wine is organically grown but I can taste when it's biodynamically grown," she said.
Will Lyons of London's Sunday Times has written, "They are marked with a purity, silkiness and concentration rarely found in other wines,"
French wine importer Kermit Lynch commented, "I can taste a difference in the grapes."
“Being biodynamic has brought more complexity to our wines, and more quality, which is key,” says Melanie Tesseron, of Chateau Pontet-Canet, a leading winery in Bordeaux.
Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, the chef de cave at Louis Roederer Champagne (makers of the famous Champagne Cristal), also sees a difference.
Quoted in a New York Times article by Eric Asimov, he says, “After four or five years we were 100 percent able to identify the wines from biodynamic soils,” he said. “More intensity, more clarity of fruit, a velvety texture and a link between fruit and acidity."
Biodynamic Wines & Vines (bd.wine) offers everything you need to start finding biodynamic wines from top producers that offer all the eco-friendly virtues that biodynamic farming embodies.
Find your next favorite wine:
• 325+ wines from $9 to $550
• Get the Top 100 Everyday Wines ($25 and Under)
Biodynamically grown wines are farmed responsibly using only organic materials.
• No glyphosate*
• No synthetic fungicides (bird and bee toxins)*
• No neurotoxins*
• No developmental or reproductive toxins*
*Permitted in wine industry led sustainability programs
Biodynamically grown wines come in many styles. Some are certified to meet high standards that guarantee purity.
• No commercial yeasts
• Low levels of sulfites (limit: 100 ppm)
• Limited number of organic additives
Certified Biodynamic Wine: The Purest Standard
• No additives (except for 100ppm of sulfites, a low level)
• Native yeast only
Subscribers get more than 20 different winery discounts on wine, shipping and tastings from 17 wineries:
• Two for One Tastings at 13 different wineries
• Discounts on wine at 4 wineries
• Shipping discounts on wine purchases at 4 wineries
A note of thanks to all the dedicated scientists and medical experts who have collected this data on residues and pesticides, climate friendly viticulture and more. And to the growers and producers who go the extra mile to follow organic and regenerative farming practices. And to the wine critics who notice.