For years, I’ve been curious about the presence of pesticides in wine since I love wine. Never having time to research this, I asked a new team member to investigate…
Hi, my name is Ms. C and I just joined The S File ™ team! I was lucky enough that my first assignment was to research healthy wines to drink. By healthy, we mean minimal pesticides. Although organic seems like the obvious winner, there are two other progressive (although actually traditional) ways to make wine that are worth knowing — natural and biodynamic.
In this article:
Our Main Concern: Pesticides
Pesticides in wine emerged as a concern after a 2008 test by the Pesticide Action Network Europe. They tested 40 bottles of conventionally produced wine (including wines made by world famous vineyards) and discovered that all bottles contained pesticides, with one bottle containing 10 different ones. On average, each wine sample contained over four pesticides. The analysis revealed 24 different pesticide contaminants, including five classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic, reprotoxic (reproductive hazards) or endocrine disrupting. (Click here to read more on Pesticides in Wine.)
Pesticides are used in conventional wines while harvesting the grapes and bottling the wine. Since grapes are one of the leading items of produce to buy organic, should we also purchase organic wine?
“The Wines You Should Be Drinking”
A couple of weeks ago, The S File ™ sent me to a two hour lecture and wine tasting class on natural, organic and biodynamic wines at the Astor Wines & Spirits in the East Village in NYC. Store owner and wine connoisseur, Andrew Fisher, led the lecture and tasting.
The class, entitled, “The Wines You Should Be Drinking,” is designed to expose consumers to wines produced from (almost) perfect grapes. These grapes are grown by winemakers who use natural, organic and biodynamic harvesting methods. Mr. Fisher told us that the seven wines we were about to taste represent the best of wine making. (As Astor Wines owner and president for over 30 years, I trust him!)
Healthier Wines: Natural, Organic and Biodynamic
Mr. Fisher explained the processes of natural, organic and biodynamic methods that winemakers employ to create their wines. While Mr. Fisher described the different techniques, he guided us through seven wines produced by those few winemakers who are, “brave enough to let the grapes speak for themselves.” He explained that everyone has their own taste and, “to make good wine, you must have good grapes. To have good grapes you must have good soil.” In order to achieve great soil, winemakers return to pre-WWII traditions of winemaking — organic, natural and biodynamic strategies.
Table of Wine Types
Organic is defined in terms of what winemakers don’t do to their grapes — no synthetic herbicides, pesticides, insecticides, acaricides, nematicides, fungicides and genetically engineered crops (GMO’s). Instead, winemakers allow their grapes to grow in a chemical- free environment. In the U.S. we have organic wines. However, Mr. Fisher explained that in the E.U., there is no such thing as organic wine — just organic grapes. One can have organically grown grapes, however the process in which the grapes turn to wine can deny the wine’s ability to be an organic wine. Organic certification varies by country.
As more and more vintners are returning to traditional methods of winemaking, organic wines will continue to appear in wine shops and challenge conventional chemical methods.
Click on More on Organic Wines to read more about what I learned on this topic.
To avoid the irrefutable damages that arise when farmers use modern technology to harvest their crops, some winemakers employ a method of organic farming called biodynamic agriculture. The strategy of biodynamic farming is to allow the farmer to assess what is happening on the farm and how to deal with it. Biodynamic certification varies immensely because each country makes its own determination on what constitutes biodynamic. A key difference between organic and biodynamic harvesting is that organic does not permit the use of chemical spray or artificial fertilizer however biodynamic farming does use a Biodynamic spray or Biodynamic compost.
The effect of biodynamic farming on wine grapes is extensive. The soil is better and stronger than conventionally farmed land. There is controlled growth of vines in smaller yields of grapes. The grapes themselves are smaller and thus higher quality. They also have thicker skins which serve as great protection from potential disease/infection. Biodynamic techniques are used in the harvesting of the grapes as well as in the processing of the grapes into wine.
Click on More on Biodynamic Wines to read more about what I learned on this topic.
Natural wines, which have no certification, appear to be the safest wines to consume due to their dedication towards growing the cleanest grapes and making the cleanest wine. These wines are made from organically grown grapes. They have no added sugars, laboratory yeasts and avoid other traditional methods such as acidifying and micro-oxygenation. Surprisingly, natural wines are reasonably priced too! The natural wines we tasted that evening were all under $25.
Unfortunately, natural wines are unable to be mass produced thus limiting their availability. Also, because their construction is so delicate, these wines can be high maintenance. They are sensitive to temperature because they are unfiltered (avoiding filter paper when bottling) and unfined (not clarifying the wine) so they have more “living” matter in the bottle. At Astor Wines & Spirits, natural wines are stored at 58 degrees but Mr. Fisher says that storage in the mid-60s would suffice. The temperature of storage is less important if the wine is consumed soon after purchase. Mr. Fisher also explained that consumers should buy these wines from stores that “show this respect” for such delicate wines.
Although the availability of natural wines is currently limited, these brave wineries have forced others to rethink their conventional chemical processes. These “progressive” methods allow vineyards to strengthen their soil and produce better grapes. In Australia, the use of sulfites in wine has decreased every year for the past three years.
I urge you to not be intimidated by these wines. They are delicious, affordable and good for you! (or at least better than the others).
Click on More on Natural Wines to read more about what I learned on this topic.
So How Did They Taste?
I really enjoyed all the wines! In order of my favorites, starting with my most favorite, below is a list of which ones we sampled. All are under $25 and available at Astor Wine & Spirits.
“These wines represent the best in winemaking” – Andrew Fisher of Astor Wine & Spirits
I would be lying if I said I will only purchase natural, organic and biodynamic wines from this point forward. Navigating the different methods and certifications of winemaking can be confusing but thanks to Mr. Fisher I have now been exposed to some incredible tasting wines from natural, organic and biodynamic vineyards. I am going to continue purchasing bottles from producers like Lopez de Heredia, Dashe Cellars and Nikolaihof whenever they are available because I know I like their taste and trust their practices. If you are especially concerned with the presence of pesticides in your wine I strongly suggest reaching out to vineyards and asking about their winemaking methods. I will leave you with the advice Mr. Fisher wisely told us, “find a grower you like and go down that road with them. You want to work with someone who is engaged with the grapes — it matters!”
What are your favorite wines to drink?
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