The U.S. government regulates use of the term “organic,” but “sustainable” and “biodynamic” have no legal definitions.
Organic Winescan be made from certified organically grown grapes without synthetic additives. “Organic” wines are also made without any added sulfites (naturally occurring sulfites will still be present).
Biodynamic Wines are similar to organic farming in that both take place without chemicals. Biodynamic farming incorporates ideas about a vineyard as an ecosystem, and also accounts for things such as astrological influences and lunar cycles. A biodynamic wine means that the grapes are farmed biodynamically, and that the wine is made naturally without any common manipulations such as yeast additions or acidity adjustments.
Sustainable Wines refers to a range of practices that are not only ecologically sound, but also economically viable and socially responsible. Sustainable farmers may farm largely organically and biodynamically but have flexibility to choose what works best for their individual property; they may also focus on energy and water conservation, and the use of renewable resources. Some third-party agencies offer sustainability certifications, and many regional industry associations are working on developing clearer standards.
A favorite organic French white wine of mine is the 2015 Cotes du Rhone, Catherine le Goeuil. I read up about it and loved the story.
Catherine Le Goeuil’s taste for adventure has made her a leading pioneer in Cairanne, a hilltop village on the left bank of the southern Rhône between Orange and Vaison-la-Romaine, a picture of Provençal fantasy where fields of lavender paint the landscape purple and proud plain trees line the marketplace in the center of town.
Having been born in the Congo to French parents, she had already lived in interesting places, but she longed to return to her roots. In 1993, with little experience and great determination, she and her family bought a six-hectare domaine. Soon after implementing one of their first chemical treatments on the vines, Catherine became very ill. The viticultural direction for the domaine became instantly clear. In her mind, farming as naturally as possible was the only way to go. Over time, she started the conversion to organic farming, and is now fully certified in this methodology. In a village just shy of one thousand inhabitants and only two others who farm organically nearby, her decisions have been met with suspicion and trepidation. Though rooted to the place both figuratively and literally, she is still considered an outsider—not that she lets this dilute her conviction in any way.