True or False: Conventionally grown wine grapes use more pesticides than most other crops.
True. Not too surprising either that pesticides put the health of farm workers, wildlife and neighboring communities at risk. Pesticides are such a huge problem in Champagne that the region has some of the most polluted water in the world according to Champagne expert Caroline Henry. And people are starting to say NO: In 2014, when teachers and students at a rural school in Bordeaux exposed to these toxic chemicals had to be hospitalized, winemakers faced strong public pressure and protests, which forced the wine industry in France to evolve more rapidly to expand organic farming methods.
True or False: Organic and biodynamic wines score higher than conventionally grown wines.
True. “Organic and biodynamic wines showed much higher quality,” reports Magali Delmas, an environmental economist at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management about her recent research. “It’s another example of sustainable goods providing additional benefits to consumers.”
True or False: Organic and biodynamic wines make a better “we” and a better “me.”
True. So not only are organic and biodynamic wines better for the planet and for people, they’re better tasting too.
Surprisingly, while consumers will pay a premium for organic produce, they don’t seem willing to pay more for organic wine. Often, organic wine is comparably priced — or even a better value– but consumers don’t seem to care.
With organic wine, “there is no compromise in quality and in terms of price, organic is free. In wine, no one charges more for organically grown wines. Amazing,” says organic wine guide author Pam Strayer.
While producing organic wine and getting certified is expensive and time consuming, most producers do it because they have a passion for the product and for the planet–- not because they can make an extra buck.
“We now have high tech mass spectrometry that shows us that conventional and sustainable wines have as much as 500-1000% more pesticide residues in them compared to organic or biodynamically grown wine,” writes Pam. “The latest science shows us these herbicides are linked to cancer and liver diseases. And then there’s the fungicides: bee and bird toxins, neurotoxins and more. They’re in the wine, too. But only in the conventional and “sustainable” wines.”
In their research, Dr. Delmas and her colleague Olivier Gergaud, who is Professeur of Economics and Director of Centre of Excellence Food, Wine and Hospitality at KEDGE,
“found that organic wines are judged to be higher quality by experts.” In the third party judging used in the study, the organic wines scored 6.2% higher than commercial ones, and biodynamic wines did even better scoring 11.8% higher!
Previously, the duo studied California wines where they found that organic wine scored higher. In their 2016 study, “critics scored eco-labeled, organic California wines 4.1% better than unlabeled wines — those not certified by a third-party organization as organic or biodynamic,” according to an email sent by one of the authors, Olivier Gergaud.
After seeing the results that California organic and biodynamic wines were over 4% better than those from commercial grapes, the researchers applied the question to France, which, after Italy, is the world’s second-largest wine producing country, and where wine was made without chemical pesticides for 2,600 years, only using chemicals since the 1930s. In 2019, Gergaud says, “the nation produced over 1 billion gallons of wine — enough to fill the 90,000-seat Rose Bowl in Pasadena 7.4 times.” The bulk of that wine was produced with pesticides.
Fortunately, Gergaud reports that “more French winemakers are going organic or biodynamic.” From 1995-2000, only 3.8% of France’s wines were third-party certified as organic or biodynamic from 1995 to 2000, but from 2001-2015, that number increased to 7.37% because “owners of smaller vineyards don’t want their families and farmworkers exposed to pesticides, and larger vineyards are beginning to follow their lead.”
“It seems like another step in the right direction,” Delmas said. “Not just for the health and the environment, but for wine quality.”
According to Gergaud, wines certified by an outside source increased scores significantly. Previously, “rather than turning to third parties to certify that their wines are either organic or biodynamic — which would involve inspections and audits to ensure products meet certain criteria — some French winemakers devised their own industry certification standard. In the new study, wines that were self-labeled as having been produced using conscientious practices according to that standard received scores that weren’t measurably different from those of conventional wines.”
However, the team of Gault Millau, Gilbert Gaillard and Bettane Desseauve “scored the third-party–certified wines an average of 6.2% higher than those that were certified organic by an industry-backed group. The findings are based on ratings data for 128,182 French wines that were produced from 1995 to 2015.” For certified biodynamic wines, where farmers use more regenerative farming methods, wines scored 11.8% higher.
Between making better tasting wines and wines that are better for the planet, this research should encourage more producers to move into regenerative agriculture or to seek out grapes that are certified grown using organical and biodynamic practices.
Clearly, self-certification does not produce wines that score as high as those wines that are certified by a third party like Demeter.
As writers, and as consumers, both Sue and I seek out biodynamic and organic wines, and we feature them here as much as possible. During our two week October 2019 trip to Champagne and the Loire, we focused on these kinds of producers which may not be easy to find but aren’t impossible. Larger importers and distributors like Winebow and Vineyard Brands offer a number of organic and biodynamic wines. Look also for smaller importers and distributors like Amy Atwood and Verovinogusto, which specializes in Italian wines.
Below is a photo essay of our visit to Vincent Charlot’s biodynamic vineyard in Champagne. Read the Vincent Charlot article that this essay draws on here.
Scroll down for links to posts about other biodynamic wines we’ve written about.
Near Mardeuil, France, biodynamic Champagne winemaker Vincent Charlot holds his most precious asset: healthy soil. To make the best champagne, Charlot says he must “understand the mind of the soil.” Biodynamic practices direct Charlot in how to listen and learn from the soil in his vineyards.
Because of intensive, widespread pesticide use, the region of Champagne may have the most polluted water in France — and the world. Charlot uses natural, organic remedies to build strength in the vines through the chalky soil. “When you have soil like this, the roots are deep,” says Charlot. “Just like a person — more balanced, less sick.”
As Charlot farms biodynamically, we safely smell and sample soils formed from marine fossils long ago. “When you taste the chalk, you can taste that the wine is born from the sea,” says Charlot. Like a sponge, chalk absorbs moisture releasing it by evapotranspiration to carry minerals from earth into grapes for flavor and texture in wine.
“When you drink the wine,” says Charlot, “you understand the soil.” If there’s more clay, there’s more fruit, more sensuality; the chalk soils have more tension. Few are invited to visit vineyards; I am fortunate to walk there with Charlot. In the US, Vincent Charlot’s biodynamic champagne ranges in price from $60-$110.
The Le Fruit de Ma Passion label represents how biodynamics integrate cycles. “When you work biodynamically, you work closely with the sun and the moon,” says Charlot. “But that’s really just the beginning of biodynamics. When you believe about the sun and the moon, the rest is more simple.”
Here’s a few of our recent posts about biodynamic wines which I found using the term “biodynamic” in the search bar:
“A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh…” Proverbs 14:30. “I’m gonna own that place one day.” Bill Shinkle, founder of Tranquil Heart. What better wine for Valentine’s Day in these turbulent times than one called Tranquil Heart?
On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me… 9 Cheeses in a Cheese Grotto 8 Bottles of Bubbles 7 Winning Wine Clubs, 6 Gorgeous Glasses, 5 Organic Wine Guides, 4 Wine Books, 3 Phone Soaps, 2 Festive Wines, and a Wine Calendar from Wine4Me! Of course, there had to be a … Continue reading
I’m here to tell you today about a Pinot Noir named Rastaban. But first I have to tell you about Hera and the legend of Ladon the Dragon.
As the nights and days cool, and the green leaves go gold and and fall to the ground, our attention turns to comfort food and wine to go with it. For Sue and I, that means Italian food. Nearing the end of a long Spring under lockdown, when we were released but still concerned, we … Continue reading
While we may be firmly in fall, these whites from biodynamic Brooks in Oregon’s Willamette Valley will bring back the joys of summer to your glass.
As the country awakens from slumber, so does the countryside grow green and fragrant with flowers. Wineries and vineyards, however, have not been sleeping: vines and wines have been cared for, and now winery owners and staff across the country are evaluating how they can reopen to the public and still keep everyone safe. On … Continue reading
Can you say oysters in French? How about cheese? Or beets? On our first morning in the Loire, in the small village of Montreiull- Bellay, we walked to the castle across the river that we could see from our accommodations